8 Items in the Kenner Super Powers Action Figure Collection That Had Various Conceptual Issues
I will go on the record and state this unequivocally: the 1980s Kenner Super Powers action figure lineup was, bar none, the greatest collection of superhero action figures ever created. Over the course of three years, Kenner released 34 figures (along with a Hall of Justice playset and assorted vehicles) that exquisitely immortalized DC’s greatest heroes and villains, a few rising stars, and a respectable contingent of second-stringers that got their first taste of merchandising fame. And then there was this guy… or, more accurately, appliance. “The Computerized Crimefighter,” as the back of the package dubbed him, Cyclotron is an android (with removable face and chestplate) whose microchip brain “houses information on all known heroes and villains.” According to his bio, he was built by Superman and programmed by the Justice League’s computers, and he used his database to anticipate villains’ moves. He was also completely non-existent outside this one toy line, not even scoring a single appearance in the Super Powers Galactic Guardians show that aired at the time of the figure’s release. Considering the paucity of other top DC names in the lineup, particularly from among its more distaff ranks (Batgirl? Hello?), Cyclotron’s addition was baffling, to put it mildly, and it may have been a big part of the reason why the whole line was scuttled before the slated fourth wave of figures went into production.
2. Golden Pharaoh
Aside from Cyclotron, Golden Pharoah was the only other figure in the Super Powers collection that wasn’t based on an already-existing character, but at least he had the benefit of being human. His backstory: He was a British Egyptologist working on a dig in Giza when he was hit by a bolt of energy from the New Gods, “unleashing the latent energies inherent in his body and turning him into Golden Pharaoh.” He came with his “mystical pyramid staff” and wings that extended when his legs were squeezed together. Two questions: (1) Can someone find me a comic-book archaeologist who hasn’t found a source of unimaginable power while excavating a dig? (2) If this character was created in an understandable attempt to give the collection a little diversity, couldn’t they have at least designed a Golden Pharaoh who was actually Egyptian?
The “gotta add more international heroes” theory is supported by the addition of Samurai, the Japanese hero whose bottom torso and legs spin around to evoke his whirlwind powers. While never appearing in the comics, he at least had some TV cred, having appeared in the Super Friends cartoons for years before the toy line came out. Not the worst choice if diversity was the goal, though his appearance begs the question of what happened to the Apache Chief, El Dorado, and Black Vulcan figures that never materialized. And while the cloth vest may have seemed like a good idea at the time, in retrospect it only served to emphasize the fact that a guy who spent a lot of time in windy places somehow thought dressing like a cross between the Sub-Mariner and a member of the Village People was a good idea.
The addition of figures based on Jack Kirby’s stable of New Gods characters was one of the reasons why the Super Powers collection rocked, pure and simple. Darkseid, Steppenwolf, Kalibak, DeSaad: these were characters that could give our heroes a real challenge, and the nice part was that Kirby’s character redesigns for the toy line meant he finally earned some much-deserved royalties on his creations after decades of work-for-hire arrangements. The cowardly DeSaad had no special powers to speak of, but he was a master at the art of torture, specifically in devising gizmos to torment humans, like the “vibro-shocker” device that’s affixed to the figure’s chest. Visually, he made a nice addition to the set, but the vac-metallized vibro-shocker was just too fragile for serious playtime, and his removable plastic skirt had a habit of slipping down just a few millimetres, exposing just enough of his leggings to cause no end of tittering among my friends – who were, as you correctly assume, the type of guys who found words like “tittering” hilarious.
The Parademon figure represents what I like to call the Storm Trooper Conundrum of collecting action figures. Parademons are loyal to Darkseid, not too bright, wear protective armor and can fly. But just like Lord Vader’s own armor-clad shock troops, Parademons are really only that terrifying when they come at you in huge numbers. So if you buy a Parademon figure to complete the set, you have the option of owning only the one Parademon — which frankly looks lonely, no matter how many painted teeth it’s baring — or you buy them by the boatload, depleting your bank account for the sake of narrative accuracy. Not being completely insane, I’ve chosen the former option, but I occasionally feel the occasional pang of existential angst on its behalf when I see it alone on the shelf.
From the ever-informative Super Powers Archives: “A warlord from the planet Tyrraz in the 30th century, Tyr traveled back in time to escape his dread enemies, the Legion of Superheroes. Now fronting as a gun for hire, Tyr hunts down heroes for anyone, if the price is right. With his sentient gunhand and ability to create spatial warp stargates, Tyr is feared from Apokolips to Miami.” Yes, folks: “sentient gunhand.” This uber-obscure villain was inducted into the collection solely because the designers wanted a character with a spring-loaded weapon: just squeeze his legs and watch his gun hand sail a mean three, four inches towards its target. While not the most lethal plaything ever devised, I can see how this might hurt a kid’s eyeball at a close enough range, so why Kenner decided to elevate this potential lawsuit generator over, say, Supergirl or Bizarro is beyond my meager powers of reasoning.
Just prior to the release of the Super Powers line, DC revamped its top two Superman villains to give them a slightly more menacing edge. In Brainiac’s case, that meant ditching the green-skinned humanoid appearance and gaining a robotic body resembling a metallic skeleton with a honeycombed cranium. The change was meant to heighten his artificial, emotionless nature, and it might have caught on if DC’s cosmic housecleaning a few short years later hadn’t meant yet another revamp of the character. This figure came out during Brainiac’s short-lived Terminator-with-a-fishbowl-head look, and to be fair it is a nicely detailed figure. But for reasons known only to themselves, the designers decreed that Brainiac’s super power would be his “power action kick” – squeeze the arms together and he high-kicks it, Rockettes-style. How a sentient computer from a distant galaxy decides he must travel to Earth to literally kick some superhero ass is a tale begging to be told.
8. Justice Jogger
And when all the other gifts were lying unwrapped under the tree, little Timmy at last opened his final present, which turned out to be a Super Powers Justice Jogger. It was then that Timmy realized there was no God, and set fire to his parents. Seriously, look at this thing. Look at Superman’s face – he is completely embarrassed to be seen riding in this thing. And who can blame him? It’s a chair with legs that fights evil. Any hero using this “overland villain chaser” would need a head start to catch the Penguin, fer crissakes. At least with the Super-Mobile or Delta Probe One, you could come up with a plausible reason for why Superman or one of the earthbound heroes would need air support… but what hero could possibly pull this off without looking like a complete dork? If there isn’t a Robot Chicken skit based on this toy’s complete uselessness, then someone should seriously tell Seth Green to get on this, stat.