Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Crisis on Earth-Blog: Super Powers 25th Anniversary

Our colossal comic blog crossover celebrating a quarter-century of the Kenner Super Powers Collection continues here at Crimson Lightning! Fifteen superhero blogs--banded together from remote galaxies--have joined forces to commemorate this anniversary and bask in a little well-deserved nostalgia for one of the greatest action figure lines of all time!

Previously on "Crisis on Earth-Blog," we reviewed the remarkable marketing contrivance that is the four-inch mini-comics packaged with Super Powers brand action figures. I don't know about you but, after reading about the Flash's run-in with one of Superman's great arch-nemeses, I was ready to log on eBay and seek out a Super Powers Brainiac! Thus, today we're going to remember the toys themselves. Beginning twenty-five years ago, Kenner released a line of DC Comics-inspired products that soon came to encompass thirty-four action figures, eight vehicles, and one super-cool playset. Neither Kenner nor DC Comics could have predicted the precise impact these toys would have on comic fandom. The Super Powers Collection was quickly recognized as the line of superhero action figures and has earned a cherished place in a superhero history.

The Super Powers Collection is celebrated to this day and the reasons for its success are many yet also quite simple. Kenner's range of action figures was extensive, mixing famous comic icons with lesser known heroes and villains. It also debuted at a pivotal moment in the marketing of DC Comics's characters. Rob of the Aquaman Shrine astutely observes the importance of Kenner's fortuitous timing, noting that "by 1984, the debut of the line, the long-running Hanna-Barbera Super Friends cartoon show was wrapping up its run." Truly, as in so many great successes stories, Super Powers offered a well-produced product marketed and distributed at just the right cultural moment. Bee of Love Dat Joker succinctly describes the genius inherent to the line's design: "The Super Powers Collection were marked out by a hidden mechanism they featured that would trigger a particular 'trademark' action when the arms or legs were squeezed--that they were hidden meant that the figures themselves remained unmarred by visible levers or buttons, retaining a purity of resemblance to the characters they were based on."

As a result, Kenner's collection allowed young comic book fans to interact with the characters they knew and loved and, on some imaginative level, to approximate the sort of storytelling they had learned from the pages of their favorite books. The titular "Super Powers" offered an added incentive but, crucially, it was a gimmick that did not interfere with the all-important aesthetics of the sculpts. In the case of the Flash's figurine, squeezing Barry Allen's biceps activated the toy's "Power Action Lightning Legs," simulating a mad dash at super-speed. At the same time, however, the figure's design beautifully approximated the character being drawn by the likes of Carmine Infantino, right down to the scarlet speedster's disarming smile. The success of the line soon led to merchandising mayhem and, as some of the items on display at Tommy's Bat-Blog will show, the signature Super Powers shooting star logo became ubiquitous for a time. Check out the Aquaman Shrine's look at the Super Powers Give-a-Show Projector, for example!

Take it from a boy who remembers, these toys were irresistible. The value associated with the figures and accessories today can be directly correlated to the cherished memories the children of the 1980s have for the Super Powers toys. I still own a sizable sampling of the collection. Tucked away in a box in my closet are Superman, Batman, Robin, Aquaman, Firestorm, the Joker, the Penguin, and others--though, quite tragically, I seem to have lost my Hall of Justice playset at some point during the last two decades! As I noted yetsterday, the Hawkman figure was a particular favorite of mine. Carter Hall's broad "Power Action Flight Wings" were just so awe-inspiring and majestic, even at four inches!

Of course, each of the toys is showing their age. My own beloved Flash figurine, pictured to the right, is evidence enough. The paint job has been worn right off poor Barry's nose and his chin, revealing the bright red plastic beneath. There are deep scratch marks along both legs. The mechanism of those "Power Action Lightning Legs" is just about completely worn out; squeezing his arms to active the advertised super powers barely causes his left leg to tremble at this stage. All of this, of course, is to say that I had more than my share of fun with the Super Powers Flash back in the day. As any appraiser would tell you, this is one well-loved action figure! Clearly, as a child I had not even the faintest inkling or care that this would one day be a valuable collector's item--I was having entirely too much fun with it!--and, honestly, that's as it should be.

As Kelson explains over at Speed Force, a proposed fourth wave of action figures would have added the crimson comet's friends and allies to the mix. "Among the proposed figures were Kid Flash and the Reverse Flash, which would have rounded out the major Earth-One speedsters." Even though the line boasted an impressive sampling of characters, fans can't help but imagine what might have been if the famous line had continued. Truly, the Super Powers Collection from Kenner will not be soon forgotten.

Comic Blog Crossover: Blogs will live! Blogs will die! The latest "Crisis on Earth-Blog" continues elswehere in this multiverse of blogospheres. I've offered my memories of the Super Powers Collection toys here but to learn more about this legendary line of action figures and its countless tie-ins you'll have to visit the fourteen other outstanding blogs involved in this crossover. Be astounded by anecdotes on action figure acquisition! Thrill to the tales of those marvellous mini-comics! Bask in the glory of those innocent, bygone, halcyon days of 1984. Choose a comic character and click a link...


papa zero said...

Just realized I owned 23 of them.

Dixon said...

That's a nice collection!

papa zero said...

Yeah but the villains never really stood a chance with the ratio of good guys they had going. :P

Dixon said...

Ha! I suppose that's true, now that you mention it. Clearly, heroism is more marketable than villainy!

The Irredeemable Shag said...

Dixon - Fantastic coverage on the Super Powers anniversary! Even though the Flash is one of my top five favorite superheroes, I never owned the Super Powers figure. :( I'll just live vicariously through your outstanding post about the figure!

Keep up the great work!

The Irredeemable Shag

Dixon said...

Thanks, Shag! And thank you for organizing this fantastic crossover event. I had a lot of fun.

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I'll give everything I'm to get the entire collection of Marvel's figures of action, I live impassioned with them since I was a child.