Thursday, January 14, 2010

Kenner Super Powers Collection Mini-Comics (DC Comics)

When I was a kid, I was infatuated with this line of toys...I mean, it was the first time in my young existence that I could actually own toys based upon my great love: comic books.

Here's Wikipedia with a little info:

The Super Powers Collection was a line of action figures based on DC Comics superheroes and supervillains that was created by Kenner Toys in the 1980s.

In 1984, DC Comics awarded the license of their characters to Kenner Toys, hot on the heels of Mattel's "action feature" heavy He-Man toy line. Winning the license away from Mego Corporation and Mattel with their emphasis on action and art, Kenner devised hidden mechanisms within the figures that would trigger an action when the figures legs or arms were squeezed. This emphasis on each figure's "super power" led to the naming of the line - The Super Powers Collection. Each figure in the first two series were also packaged with a mini-comic featuring that character's adventures.

Comic creator Jack Kirby received some of the only royalties of his long career for redesigning his characters for Kenner. Artist George Pérez also received royalties for his design of Cyborg and redesign of Lex Luthor and Brainiac. Most all other designs (and much of the packaging artwork) is based on José Luis García-López's classic DC Style Guides (other artwork used appears to be the work of Dick Giordano).

In all, three series of figures and accessories were released (in 1984, 1985, and 1986), but after three years of production the line collapsed. Coincidentally, Kenner's Star Wars line stopped shipping to stores the same year the Super Powers line ended.

Once the line was in full force a merchandising frenzy took place, with DC Comics and Kenner slapping a Super Powers logo on whatever they possibly could. DC Comics produced three comic book mini-series featuring characters from the toyline, one during each year of the toyline's existence. These comics were separate from the continuity of the regular comics featuring the characters. Hanna Barbera also produced two animated series (a refreshing of the venerable Super Friends concept), called Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians. Warner Home Video used the opportunity to issue episodes of Superman, Batman, Superboy, and Aquaman produced by Filmation in 1966 on video cassette in 1985 under the Super Powers label, reissuing them again in 1996. Other tie-in products were produced, including lunchboxes and posters. Only the toy line carried the "Collection" tag; all other merchandise would have a solo "Super Powers" logo.

Highly prized today, Kenner's distribution practices of including up to 18 of one character in a case of 24 led to a glut of the core characters throughout the life of the line, and a rapid demise. Due to this practice, certain figures such as Cyborg, Golden Pharaoh, and Plastic Man remain rare to this day while the Flash and Superman are easily found. Another reason the Super Powers Collection is so highly sought after is the inclusion of both popular and little-known characters throughout the line. While the First Series featured well-known characters, the Second Series concentrated on figures from Kirby's New Gods Saga, and the Third Series mixed both DC Comics acquisitions from other companies and figures created solely for the line.

Unreleased figures

After 10 years of chronicling the history of the Super Powers Collection, in 2003 toy historian Jason Geyer's ToyOtter website revealed the never seen designs for the unmade Series Four, Five, and Six, along with vehicles, playsets and a deluxe "Power Plus" figure line. The most famous of these is the Man-Bat figure, of which an actual prototype was created.

Prior to Super Powers, one manufacturer (in this case, the Mego Corporation) licensed both DC and Marvel characters for action figures. When the Secret Wars toyline, by Mattel, came onto the retail toy scene, it was setup as direct competition for the Kenner line. These figures, similar in scale to the Super Powers Collection, introduced a competing marketing strategy between manufacturers of Marvel and DC action figures, continuing to separate the comic book publishers' character licenses. That trend continues to this day.

The Super Powers line, in many ways, inspired the 1989 Toy Biz DC Super Heroes toyline in design. This line, merging with the Batman toyline would borrow design elements from many of the Kenner figures, most notably Superman, Robin, and Penguin who were near identical copies of the Kenner figures.

Mattel's DC Universe Classics line also draws inspiration from the Super Powers figures. Several figures that were redesigned for the Super Powers line (Mantis, Parademon, and Steppenwolf) were produced for DC Universe Classics in both comic-accurate and Super Powers-accurate versions. A Cyclotron figure is also being released, even though the character only appeared as part of the Super Powers line.

Based on definitive style guide artwork, with moderate articulation and hidden action features, the Kenner Super Powers Collection eventually released 34 figures, eight vehicles, and one playset. In addition, Latin and South American toymakers introduced three characters not available in the US. In Argentina, toy company Pacipa (and later Play Ful) produced El Acertijo (Riddler), which was a Green Lantern figure in different paint. It was released in Argentina under the Super Amigos (Super Friends) brand. Brazilian toy company Gulliver produced El Capitan Rayo (Captain Lightning, but sometimes anglicized simply 'Captain Ray'), and his unique nemesis 'Hombre de las Nieves' (Yeti/The Abominable Snowman). Though most Gulliver Super Powers characters were branded 'Super Powers' (the characters that Kenner also made), the unique Rayo and Yeti were released under the 'Super Heroes' brand to distinguish them. They were available in Colombia.

Super Powers Mini-Comics Pack 1

Super Powers Mini-Comics Pack 2

For a great resource of info on the classic toy line, be sure to check out:

The Super Powers Archive


Anonymous said...

About DC Classics, it really is a Superpower nerd's line. So many homages to that line. They just remake every single figure and add new ones as they see fit or are "fans" of. No real room for reinventing the wheel. Very strict and sober, rule-based type deal. Marvel Legends on the other hand was more out there and willing to take risks. I've seen the lineup for at least through Wave 17 and honestly if they don't improve it in 2011 then its "Goodbye" forever.

The DC license doesn't help things either. Its the classic legacy characters and teams plus the modern era. Well, at this point all DC *Comics* has to add in the modern era is Green Lantern. Dark Knight is not doing the same business at the box office as its doing for Batman comics. And Bruce Wayne has been dead over a year. DC editorial feels that was necessary for the short term sales spike. But lookout! They're bringin him back PLUS relaunching a bunch of prrrroperties (Legion of Superheroes, Birds of Prey, Justice League International) to reel back in the fans they lost with Final Crisis. Its either a remorseful move on their part or a thinly veiled short term sales boost. They need help against Marvel and these psuedo-monthly series is enough to boost the overall market share will at the same time cancelling them less than a year later to "save production costs." But serioiusly how much does it cost to produce a print comic when you can make it a digital exclusive download instead of cancelling it yet again? Weak DC. Very weak.

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Todd said...

Thank you! I never got the Wonder Woman comic because Wonder Woman was never in stores, so we ordered it from Sears, which left out the comic. Wonder Woman showed up at stores locally later that week.

Matt Butcher said...

Thank you so much!! You can't get these anywhere, and I just want to read them! Excellent!