Have I really never done a Friday Flashback on the Super Powers line? Holy crap. Before I even get started, I want to issue props and homage to Jason Geyer and Mike Mensinger (<a href=http://kennersuperpowers.com>kennersuperpowers.com</a>), two of the guys that are among the biggest authorities on this line in the world of fandom, and provided the awesome pictures you see here. Geyer, now of the excellent ActionFigureInsider.com with our friend Julius Marx, can also take credit for breaking the news in 2003 regarding the actual <a href=http://www.actionfigureinsider.com/archives/sp/spfind/index.html>unproduced figures in the line</a>. Any online coverage of Super Powers begins and ends with Jason. Respect.
Now that we’ve covered that . . . we must away to 1984.
1984: We’ve talked about ’84 in the Flashback before. I would turn 11 that year, and pop culture was just on fire, man. The great Bill Simmons of ESPN.com once wrote a piece called “<a href=http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/040903>1984, it was a very good year</a>” that gave us “84 reasons why 1984 can never be topped”. If I started quoting it, I’d just quote the whole thing. Go there, read it, and come back. We’ll wait. Younglings, what can I say? You missed some greatness. I will go on the record as saying that Ghostbusters remains one of my favorite movies, and that I’ve been more than a little influenced in my life by Dr. Peter Venkman.
You Decide!: You may have a hard time believing this, but Star Wars toys were on the downward cycle in 1984. That’s right; 1983 had the release of ROTJ, but Kenner would slowly stop releases from the cash cow (a cow that would all but disappear until the ‘90s a short time later). In that environment, Kenner had the good luck to get the master toy license for DC; the license had previously been held by Mego. Incidentally, Marvel would go to Mattel, home of He-Man. Hasbro still had G.I Joe; the combining of Hasbro and Kenner was years away.
The look of the characters for the line came primarily from the style guides by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, known primarily to me at that time as the guy that drew Atari Force a book that I loved (and frankly, probably coming soon to a Friday Flashback near you). I’ve read that Jack Kirby and George Perez received royalties for the designs for, respectively, Kirby’s Fourth World characters that made it into the line, and Perez’s takes on the robotic Brainiac and armored Lex Luthor.
The line got heavy support in terms of ads in comics and on television. The TV ads (easily findable on YouTube) typically featured one hero in a desperate situation until someone (normally Superman) would show up to pull their plastic ass out of the fire. Each loudly narrated commercial would end with a question (“Will Robin survive certain death?”, for example), and a breathlessly exclaimed, “YOU DECIDE!” Far from subtle, but certainly effective, especially in the way that the ads showcased the line’s main selling point: the Super Power actions that each figure contained.
The first line of twelve figures included the usual suspects: Batman, Robin, Superman, Flash (Barry), Green Lantern (Hal), Hawkman (Katar Hol), Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Joker and Penguin. I say with some authority that Wonder Woman was a total pain in the ass to find, but find her I did. I was also fortunate enough to get the Hall of Justice, which remains one of the great playsets of all time. The first two that I got were Flash and Green Lantern, and those two remain two of my favorite figures to this day.
When the second assortment came out, I was totally surprised. It’s not like today where you read about rumors and announcements months in advance. For me, it happened this way. I was at Kroger. I went to the toy aisle (decently stocked in those days) and saw HOLY CRAP! MARTIAN MANHUNTER?!?! Now, I was a big JLA fan, and Justice League of America #200 was (and is, really) my favorite single issue. I picked up Manhunter and saw . . . Dr. Fate?! What strange new parallel world of toy bliss was this? I soon learned that the second assortment included them, Firestorm, Green Arrow, Red Tornado, and not one, not two, but SIX Jack Kirby Fourth World villains. Ack! Nirvana. You have to keep this in perspective: I loved the Great Darkness Saga, and here was a Darkseid figure. Insanity.
Unfortunately, assortment three had weak distribution in the middle of Indiana, and I never totally completed the collection. Sure, I had Orion and Samurai, Tyr and Mr. Freeze, but I never even saw Cyborg until I was in my 20s. My future wife eternally endeared herself to me early in our dating tenure when she returned from a flea market with Shazam! (Captain Marvel, of course, but you know those packaging rules) and Kalibak, neither of which I had. She got it. And still does.
For many collectors of super-hero toys, Super Powers was a landmark. The line was filled with characters that we NEVER thought we’d see and it presented them in a very cool way. Now, 27 years hence, Mattel has made a remarkable good faith effort to include in their DC Universe Classics line every single character that appeared in the Super Powers line, going so far as to include bases with the logo on them for the likes of Golden Pharaoh. That, kids, is real affection.
How about you, readers? Have a favorite Super Powers figure or memory? They’re one of the great toy lines of all time, and they are your Friday Flashback.