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In 1984, DC Comics awarded the master toy license of their characters to Kenner Products, hot on the heels of Mattel's "action feature" heavy He-Man toy line. The initial pitch seemed to be heavily influenced by Kenner's popular Star Wars toyline with multiple playsets with individual franchises for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Teen Titans, Lois Lane, and the Super Jrs. 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 figure's 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.
With his Apokolipsian New Gods characters like Darkseid judged ideal antagonists for the line, 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. Ed Hannigan had already redesigned Brainiac in Action Comics the previous year (June 1983). Most other designs (and much of the packaging artwork) were based on José Luis García-López' classic DC Style Guides (other artwork used appears to be the work of Dick Giordano, who was known to ink Garcia-Lopez' art for the publications, and Mike DeCarlo).
In all, three series of figures and accessories were released (in 1984, 1985, and 1986), but after three years of production the line collapsed.
Once the line was on the market, a vigorous merchandising campaign took place, with DC Comics and Kenner striving for the Super Powers logo to become ubiquitous. DC Comics produced three comic book mini-series featuring characters from the toyline, one during each year of the toyline's existence. The first series of comics in 1984 was plotted by Jack Kirby, who also provided covers, who went on to pencil the second series. The third and final series was penciled by Carmine Infantino.
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 VHS and Betamax video cassette in 1985 under the Super Powers label (and also as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of their sister company DC Comics), reissuing them again on VHS in 1996 (and were still available into the early 2000s until the end of the VHS format). Other tie-in products were produced, including lunchboxes, 3-D puffy stickers, party supplies, paintable figurines, Underoos, coloring and activity books (Secret of the Frozen City, Superman, Lex Luthor, The Joker, Batman, The Penguin, Wonder Woman, Villains, Superman and Batman, and Superman and the Super Powers), The Super Powers Anti-Coloring Book by Susan Striker, Stain-A-Sticker, Justice League of America Skyscraper Caper game, sunglasses, playhouses, belt buckles, sneakers, signature stamp sets, coloring play mats, drinking glasses/tumblers, model kits, soap, stain painting sets, calendars, Play-Doh sets, cube game, jointed wall figures, wrist watches, jigsaw puzzles (Jaymar and Craftmaster), Give-A-Show projectors, backpacks, gym bags, Valentine's Day paraphernalia, kites, pajamas, card games, sticker albums, sleeping bags, wall cling decorations, inflatable punching bop bags, bed sheets, clothes, windsocks, greeting cards, View-Master theatre sets, nut and fruit mix, sidewalk artist sets, temporary tattoos, SunShiners, galoshes, Nerf wrist flyers, duffel bags, lip balm, slippers, crayon sets, planners, school supplies, belts, baseball caps, flashlights, bumper stickers, pins, jewelery, embroidered patches, and posters. Kenner offered several mail-in promotions including a flexible vinyl record called The Darkseid Saga, child-size Superman plastic cape, and an 18" by 24 " color poster.
Burger King produced cup holders and meal packs as part of the promotion. I.J.E., Inc.'s Kid Vid Productions produced three See & Read books for Super Powers under their Kid Stuff line named Battle At the Earth's Core, Darkseid… of the Moon, and The Battle for Apokolips! available as a picture book with audio cassette, vinyl record (reminiscent of Power Records), or VHS tape (similar to Golden Book Video). I.J.E., Inc. also released a Listen 'N Look book (which included an audio cassette) for the line called The Adventures of Superman. Simon & Schuster produced a series of four Which Way books for the Super Powers line titled Superman: The Man of Steel, Supergirl: The Girl of Steel, Justice League of America, and Batman: The Doomsday Prophecy (distributed in the UK by Carousel). DuPont Pharmaceuticals and the National Association of Retail Druggists commissioned Super Powers: Good Health Activity Book (1986) which promoted fitness and health education for children. This black & white book went through four printings up to 1989 though later editions were titled DC Comics Super Heroes: Good Health Activity Book. The "DC Comics Super Heroes" logo would replace the Super Powers logo on merchandise when the line died out (especially in 1989 when Toy Biz reused many of the action figure molds for their DC Comics Super Heroes line). Only the toy line carried the "Collection" tag; all other merchandise would have a solo "Super Powers" logo.
Superman: The Game would acquire the Super Powers logo in later releases.
The DC Heroes role-playing modules were advertised under the Super Powers banner and featured the logo on its printed materials.
Canada Fancy Superman French Fries featured a mail-in offer for the Clark Kent action figure and a sweepstakes to win a figure from the line.
Canadian Shell Gasoline Stations offered a promotion for a coupon for a specially carded action figure from the line for purchasing 25 liters.
According to the 1984 Consumer Promotions Catalogue, Sunnyland Refining Co. Superman brand Peanut Butter would offer coupons for action figures, Supermobile, Lex-Soar 7, and Batmobile. However, the jars never appeared to surface with the promotion.
Some aspects of the line persist even in recent history, such as in 1993 temporary tattoos and eight pins (featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash) sold by the Warner Bros. Studio Store, a 2009 calendar in Australia, comic strip-like pajamas offered at Target in 2009, underwear briefs and boxers, and school supplies. In 2011, Sideshow Collectibles and Mondo Tees offered a 24" by 36" screen print drawn by Tom Whalen featuring the characters of the Super Powers toyline limited to 250 pieces.
The Tower of Darkness playset featuring the likeness of Darkseid was far along in development yet never appeared on store shelves. Featured on action figure cards of the third wave, the set was previewed at the 1986 Toy Fair.
After 10 years of chronicling the history of the Super Powers Collection, in 2003 toy historian Jason Geyer's ToyOtter website & collector James "Sallah" Sawyer revealed the never-before-seen designs for the unmade Series Four, Five, and Six, along with vehicles, playsets and a deluxe "Power Plus" figure line. Proposed action figures with supporting artwork revealed were Man-Bat*, El Dorado*, Quadrex/Insecta Six/Bio Bug* (a possible nod to Superman villain Grax), Shockwave*, Silicon*, Blue Devil, Bizarro, Creeper, Metallo, Executioner, Supergirl, John Stewart, Kid Flash, Manhunter, Vigilante, Mister Mxyzptlk, Black Vulcan, the Reverse Flash, Deathstroke, Obsidian, the Black Racer, the Atomic Knight, Howitzer, and variants of Superman (Robot Superman and Kryptonite Superman). The Power Plus Line featured Superman*, Batman*, Firestorm*, Cyborg*, Rocketman*, Wonder Twins, Robin, and an unidentified hawk person. Vehicles include All-Terrain Trapper*, Brainiac Brain Ship, Cyborg Crawler (a redesigned Evil Cat Crawler), Fist Fighter, Jump Jet, Snooper Scout, Superman Glider, and Plasticman Car. Further, there was a golden assortment for Superman to represent his 50th anniversary with a golden repaint of Superman, the Supermobile, and collector's case. It should be noted, while a Catwoman action figure was long believed to be in the works, no material discovered supports its existence beyond the initial pitch of Kenner to acquire the license.
Other figures were suggested to be in development but no tangible evidence has surfaced to support their existence. Amongst these were Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Batgirl, Solomon Grundy, Swamp Thing, Metron, Lightray, Power Girl, Dream Girl, and Dawnstar. It was suggested that the Snare Arm Swamp Thing from the Swamp Thing toyline was made from a figure slated for the Super Powers line but this was shown to be false.
Note: An asterisk (*) denotes a prototype known to exist.
Prior to the Super Powers Collection, 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 set up 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. This started the trend of Marvel and DC using competing toy manufacturers to produce their toys—a trend that continues to this day.
Beginning in 1988, Hamilton Gifts produced a line of poseable dolls with stands using similar designs to the Super Powers line. Released under their Presents and, later, Applause banner, the figures ran from thirteen to fifteen inches in height and included Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Joker (with the release of the Batman film, the Batman doll was repainted black). With the release of Batman Returns, Penguin and Catwoman dolls were also manufactured. Similar to Mego, Hamilton also produced other popular fictional franchises such as Marvel and Star Trek.
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 Super Powers figures.
Kenner's 1991 Robin Hood toyline was largely made using parts from the molds of the Super Powers line, predominantly Green Arrow. Both Robin Hood figures used Green Arrow's body and figures like Little John, Dark Warrior, Azeem, Sheriff of Nottingham, and Will Scarlett were created by combining parts of figures including Green Arrow, Hawkman, Batman, Captain Marvel, Lex Luthor, Robin, and Desaad. Some other known molded parts came from Star Wars and RoboCop.
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, Steppenwolf, and Mister Freeze) were produced for DC Universe Classics in both comic-accurate and Super Powers-accurate versions. In addition, figures for Cyclotron and Golden Pharaoh were released as part of DC Universe Classics, even though both characters only appeared as part of the Super Powers line. The Penguin released in the first wave is set to be re-released with a new head sculpt and repaint matching the Super Powers figure. In total, every figure produced for Super Powers has also been produced for DC Universe Classics and associate lines and much of the figures set to be produced for Super Powers prior to the line's cancellation has also been produced for DC Universe Classics (save Mr. Mxyzptlk, Shockwave, Black Racer, Atomic Knight, and original Super Powers characters).
In 2014, Mattel produced a special series of DC Universe Classics-style figures for their online store, MattyCollector.Com, on enlarged Super Powers packaging. The assortment consisted of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, now with color schemes matching their Super Powers incarnations, a gold-uniformed Superman, which was reportedly in the works for the original Super Powers line to commemorate Superman's then-50th anniversary, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) recolored as the Riddler as he was in the South American line (complete with color variances in the green), and an all-new figure of Mr. Mxyzptlk. There was also a "Collect-and-Connect" figure of Kalibak in his Super Powers color scheme.
A light-up Bearbrick based on the Green Lantern's lantern battery sold exclusively at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International to tie-in with the Green Lantern feature film features card art based on that of the Super Powers toyline. A Bearbrick in similar fashion was produced for SDCC in 2012 for Batman.
In a parody of the Super Friends, the sketch "That's What Super Friends Are For" on Mad features the heroes from the Super Powers toyline created by DC save Firestorm, Orion, and Mister Miracle.
Based on definitive style guide artwork, with moderate articulation and hidden action features, the Kenner Super Powers Collection eventually released 34 figures, eight vehicles, one playset, and one carrying case. 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 Coleccion Super Amigos (Super Friends Collection) brand. Brazilian toy company Gulliver Juguetes produced El Capitan Rayo (Captain Lightning, but anglicized simply 'Captain Ray' on the card face), and his unique nemesis 'Hombre de las Nieves' (Abominable Snowman). Though most of the nine Gulliver Super Powers characters were branded 'Super Powers Collection' (the characters that Kenner also made), the unique Captain Ray and Abominable Snowman were released under the 'Super Heroes Collection' brand to distinguish them. They were available in Colombia. El Capitan Rayo was composed from a repainted Aquaman head on a Superman body. 'Hombre de las Nieves' was a Mego Pocket Hero Hulk figure cast in white and gray plastic.
|Aquaman||Trident||Classic||Deep Sea Kick|
|Batman||Removable cape||Classic (yellow oval)||Bat Punch|
|Brainiac||Robot form||Computer Kick|
|The Flash (Barry Allen)||Classic||Lightning Legs|
|Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)||Lantern||Classic||Ring Thrust|
|Hawkman||Mace, removable wings||Classic||Flight Wings|
|The Joker||Mallet||Classic||Madcap Mallet|
|Lex Luthor||Removable chest plate||Battle armor||Nuclear Punch|
|The Penguin||Umbrella, removable coattails||Classic||Umbrella Arm|
|Robin (Dick Grayson)||Removable cape||Classic||Karate Chop|
|Wonder Woman||Lasso||Classic||Deflector Bracelets|
|Darkseid||Removable cape||Classic||Raging Motion|
|Desaad||Removable "skirt"||Classic||Shock Squeeze|
|Doctor Fate||Removable cape||Classic||Mystic Spell Cast|
|Green Arrow||Bow, 3 arrows||Classic||Archery Pull|
|Mantis||Super Powers redesign||Pincer Thrust|
|Martian Manhunter||Removable cape||Classic||Martian Punch|
|Parademon||Gun||Super Powers redesign||Battle Flight|
|Red Tornado||Removable cape||Classic||Tornado Twist|
|Steppenwolf||Super Powers redesign||Electro-Axe Chop|
|Cyborg||Drill hand, claw hand||Classic||Thrusting Arms|
|Cyclotron||Removable face/chestplate||Created for Super Powers||Cyclo-spin|
|Golden Pharaoh||Staff||Created for Super Powers||Soaring Wings|
|Mr. Freeze||Removable dome||Cold-blast Punch|
|Mr. Miracle||Removable cape, shackles||Classic||Wrist Lock Escape|
|Orion||Super Powers redesign||Astro-punch and Changing|
|Plastic Man||Classic||Stretching Neck|
|Samurai||Sword, removable vest||Super Friends||Gale-force Spin|
|Shazam! (Captain Marvel)||Removable cape||Classic||Thunder Punch|
|Tyr||Firing gun-hand||Classic||Rocket Launch|
|Clark Kent||Classic||Punching Action|
|Riddler (El Acertijo)||Classic||Super Punch (Super Golpe de Mano)|
|Captain Ray (El Capitan Rayo/Captain Lightning)||Created for Super Heroes Collection|
|Abominable Snowman (Hombre de las Nieves)||Created for Super Heroes Collection|
|Delta Probe One|
|Kalibak Boulder Bomber|
|Hall of Justice|
Kenner Products produced figures packaged for the US domestic market and, as with their Star Wars master toy license, also sub-licensed production of the Super Powers Collection brand, characters, and toys around the world. Just as Kenner/DC Comics created the characters Cyclotron and Golden Pharaoh to augment the Super Powers franchise, so too some sub-licensees took it upon themselves to produce characters/figures beyond those available in the domestic Kenner lineup.
|Company||Territory & Notes|
|Kenner Products (Canada) Ltd.||Headquartered in Toronto, Canada. Beginning in 1984 they produced figures under the Super Powers Collection/Collection De Super Puissants brand on bi-lingual (English/French) cards. These cards also saw distribution in Australia and New Zealand.|
|Lili Ledy||Headquartered in Mexico. Beginning in 1985 they produced (locally) the first wave of figures and a toy (Lex-Soar 7) under the "Super Poderes Coleccion" brand.These cards and the booklet are printed in Spanish languaje.|
|Parker, Palitoy, Clipper, General Mills Juguetes||This consortium of four Western European toy companies commissioned the manufacture of Super Powers Collection figures on tri-lingual (German/English/Spanish) cards for sale in their respective territories. For a time, GMJ (General Mills Juguetes, SA) had their own distinct cards for Spanish distribution.|
|Cuick: Pacipa/Play Ful||Beginning in 1989, Cuick S.A. (Cuik S.A.) of Argentina produced figures under the Coleccion Super Amigos brand for distribution by Pacipa and Play Ful. The line is most notable for the addition of Riddler (El Acertijo), a character not available in Kenner's domestic lineup.|
|Estrela||Headquartered in São Paulo, Brazil, beginning in 1988 they produced figures (locally) under the Coleção Super Powers brand. Notable because although Kenner's domestic 'series three' figures did not come with mini-comics, at least some of their Estrela counterparts did (Cyborg, Plastic Man, Shazam!).|
|Nibo||Headquartered in Uruguay. Beginning in 1987 they produced figures under the Coleccion Super Powers brand.|
|Gulliver Juguetes||Headquartered in Brazil, beginning in 1987 they produced figures for the Colombian market under the Super Powers Collection and Super Heroes Collection brands on bi-lingual (Spanish/English) cards. Most notable for their creation of two unique characters/figures: Captain Ray (El Capitan Rayo, who was spun off into his own collection of 8 figures under the Defensores De La Tierra brand by P&M Grupo) and Abominable Snowman (Hombre de las Nieves, who was unique to the Super Heroes Collection brand by Gulliver Juguetes).|
Scott Fleming of Scooter's Custom Works produced a limited line of custom action figures based on the Super Powers Collection so far as to print a color catalog of his wares advertised in the newspaper Toy Shop in the early 1990s. He hand produced cards in the Super Powers style using bubbles from the line to attach the figures to the cards. When figures from the line appeared on eBay, they were speculated to be knock-offs possibly from Mexico until corrected by Julius Marx of Action Figure Insider who clarified the line's history. Some known figures include Batgirl, Catwoman, Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner, Black Canary, and Supergirl. Marx's figures were numbered to be of a lot of 91 produced.
In 2009, several action figures claimed as a lost wave of Super Powers to be found overseas began to appear on eBay. Further, they were said to be produced by Industrial Toy Werks in Astana, Kazakhstan. Julius Marx of Action Figure Insider purchased a Mirror Master from the line and discovered it to be composed of repainted parts of the Flash, Doctor Fate, and Shazam with a custom sculpted head cast in solid resin (heavier in weight than the original line). CantinaDan, also of Action Figure Insider, bought The Dragon and learned its body was a repainted Dr. Fate with a custom sculpted head and the parts held together internally by a rubber band. The back card of the figure lists Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel (without cape), Supergirl, Gleek, Zan, Jayna, Black Lightning, The Dragon, Booster Gold, Apache Chief, Captain Atom, Wendy, Marvin, Wonder Dog, Mirror Master, Sinestro, Black Adam, Riddler, Brainiac (in Silver Age appearance), and Black Manta as part of the so-called unknown line. Figures claimed to feature either "Wind-Up and Release Punching Action" or "Magnetic Power Parts" though Marx found his Mirror Master purchase to not have the magnetic claims. A "Display Environment" called "Darksied's Fortress" [sic] was also purported.
In the Spring of 1997, a bootleg line of Super Powers figures began appearing out of Canada and Mexico packaged with a "Made in China" logo. Featuring Superman, Batman, Robin, and Spider-Man, the size of the figures were more like the traditional Mego line (perhaps going so far as to use them as a basis) and only the Superman figure was packaged with the official Super Powers logo.
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