Join us as we take a look back on a beloved camp classic and the toys it has inspired.
Batman has been a part of life in one way or another for as long as I can remember. I was probably first introduced to him by watching the Super Friends cartoon and his guest appearance on Scooby-Doo. Then, of course, there were the reruns of the 1966 Batman TV series starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as his trusty teen sidekick Robin, my first glimpse of a live-action take on the property. I was there when Batmania swept the nation in 1989 for the release of Tim Burton’s Batman starring Michael Keaton in the title role and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. And who could forget the superb Batman: The Animated series? (Which led to the creation of the “Timmverse” of DC Comics-based animation—more on that some other time.) During all of this, I was also getting into the action figures and comics.
The more I think about it though, the more I realize just how much I love the 1966 Batman series. It’s campy, fun and funny. Sure, it’s a far cry from the dark and brooding modern Batman, but we have to remember that it’s a reflection of the Batman comics of the time, which would frequently veer into outright silliness.
To me, the 1966 Batman series still has the best casting as far as the live-action versions of the Batman Rogues Gallery goes. Burgess Meredith is the Penguin to me—not to take anything away from Paul H. Williams’ voicing of the character on Batman: The Animated series, but I can’t read a comic with Penguin in it without hearing the voice of the late, great Meredith. And Cesar Romero (poorly hidden moustache and all) was very much the demented clown the Joker was supposed to be.
In recent years, the 1966 Batman series has had a bit of a resurgence in popularity. The show was finally on Blu-Ray and DVD after years of legal wrangling over its home video rights, a comic book based on the show called Batman ’66 is being published by DC, and tons and tons of show-related merchandise, including action figures, are now on store shelves. Recently, I attended the Tampa Bay Fanboy Expo where Adam West and Burt Ward were the guests of honor and the lines for their photo ops and autographs were unbelievably long. I heard that people flew in from other countries to meet TV’s “Dynamic Duo,” so you know there is still a lot of love for the 1966 version of the franchise staples.
Speaking of the action figures, the Figures Toy Company has been releasing MEGO-like versions of the characters (for those unfamiliar with MEGO, they are like eight-inch dolls with soft-goods clothing), while Mattel is putting out the more traditional six-inch scale toys. I’ll be talking more about the Mattel figures from here on out.
Mattel’s Batman Classic TV Series line kicked off in the summer of 2013 with the San Diego Comic-Con-exclusive “Batusi” Batman set, and then the retail line hit the shelves in late 2013. The first two waves of single-carded figures included the Batman, the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman (featuring the likeness of Julie Newmar), the Batmobile, a “Surf’s Up” Batman (based on a scene from the episode “Surf’s Up, Joker’s Under!”), and a boxed two-pack of Batman and Robin with a “scaling a building” playset (at that point that was the only way to get Robin). We did get eventually get “Surf’s Up” Joker in 2014, but after that, it seemed like that was it for the line.
But then something exciting happened in 2015. After a long hiatus between releases, we finally got a Batgirl (featuring the likeness of actress Yvonne Craig), first as a single-carded SDCC-exclusive and then as part of a Toys R Us three-pack (with Batman and Robin) and a “Back to the Batcave” set with Batman (with an alternate unmasked Adam West head), a bat computer, and other amazing show-specific accessories. I hope to have a look at those sets for the site soon.
No further plans for the line have been announced—it may be that that Mattel made a special deal with Toys R Us to release these items as they were already planned. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I am hoping that there might be some renewed interest in the line due to the success of the DVD/Blu Ray sales and it will spur Mattel to make some more toys based on characters from the show.
Here is my top five list of 1996 Batman TV series characters that I’d like to see made into Mattel’s Batman Classic TV Series figures:
5.) Chief O’Hara (played by Stafford Repp): A memorable character created for the TV show, he appeared in nearly every episode. He was also later introduced in the comics as the Chief of Gotham’s Police Department early on in Batman’s career.
4.) Commissioner Gordon (played by Neil Hamilton): Another character who was practically in every episode of the show. Plus, if you are going to have Chief O’Hara, you need the good commissioner.
3.) Alfred Pennyworth (played by Alan Napier): Butler, Father figure, teacher and confidante. Alfred is probably the most important person in Bruce Wayne’s life and another character in the show who appeared in every episode of the series. Perhaps Mattel can even make a variant of Alfred in the Batman suit, as he did wear it in a few emergency situations on the show.
2.) Egghead (played by Vincent Price): I would be hard-boiled if I didn’t include this egg-cellent villain (OK, OK, I’ll stop with the egg puns). The egg-obsessed punster villain was another character created specifically for the TV series and appeared in a handful of episodes. I always felt like he could have easily been a character from the Silver Age comic books as he fit right in with the rest of the rogues with his gimmick. Plus, it’s an opportunity for a Vincent Price figure, so its win-win all-around.
1.) King Tut (played by Victor Buono): Another show-specific villain, King Tut is an professor of Egyptology at Yale who gets hit on the head and develops the delusion that he is the reincarnation of King Tut himself. He appeared in several episodes throughout the series’ run and would make a fun action figure.
It would also be fun to see some of the henchmen that usually accompanied the villains themselves. I think those could be a big hit with the “army-building” crowd, perhaps sold in packs of two or three, with stickers to align them to the different villains.