If you were a comic book collector in 1992, chances are you were there when THE event of the year took place: "The Death of Superman!" After a multi-part slugfest between Superman and a new villain named Doomsday, fans old and new lined up at their local comic book specialty stores to get their hands on a copy of Superman #75, which featured, you guessed it, the "death" of Superman.
For several months fans were treated to multi-issue stories called "Funeral for a Friend" and the "Reign of the Supermen!" where no less than 4 new characters staked a claim as the returned-from-the-dead Superman. Since this is comics, Superman's death naturally wasn't permanent. Of course the one true Superman would eventually return to reclaim his title, but in the meantime fans everywhere lined up for their weekly dose (although there was a 3-month gap in between to avoid advance spoilers) of Superman's adventures.
I was working at a local comic book store at the time the comics were published, and let me tell you....if we had a million copies of Superman #75, we could have sold them all. Customers we never saw before (or since!) came into the store to buy several copies of EACH version of the comic! It was a crazy time to be into comics.
So is it really a surprise that Kenner capitalized on the story's popularity? Of course not! In 1995, Kenner created the SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL toy line that starred almost all of the main characters from the crossover event, plus some cool (for the time, anyway) villains and some, um, interesting, takes on Superman himself. Since superhero trading cards were all the rage at the time, as an added bonus, each figure included a new card painted by fan-favorite Joe Jusko! (I will add scans of the cards, as soon as I find out where I put them!)
If you're a regular reader of this column, then you already know my "rule" of only buying the figure that were based on actual comic book appearances. Since this entire line was mostly based on the comics, that was a pretty easy rule to follow, since Kenner tackled nearly all of the main players in the event!
Power Flight Superman
Since this figure was based on the main character, he had to include an action feature. However, the action feature allowed the figure to do one thing: raise his arms and look up. That was it. Not terribly exciting...but since I was really just displaying these guys on my toy shelf, it didn't matter. The chains were supposed to give the figure something to burst out of, but they pretty much got left on the ground.
What kind of a Superman toy line would this be without Lex Luthor? The sculpting on this figure was pretty dynamic, although it got covered up when you added the armor. I don't recall if this armor was in the comics, but since it was removable, guess where it ended up?
One of the 4 new characters that stepped up to replace Superman during the "Reign of the Supermen" crossover, this "Man of Steel" turned out to be pretty popular. So much so that he's still around today and even had a movie all his own! This figure was a great rendition of the character, with an action feature that allowed him to swing his hammer at the bad guys.
Another one of the 4 "Reign of the Supermen" characters, this "Metropolis Kid" (don't call him "Superboy!") was another character that was popular enough to get his own series and he was around for years. The figure actually doesn't do much (he can launch mechanical pieces from his arms), and the sculpting makes him look a little too old, but still is a nice rendition.
Obviously, Superman wouldn't be "dead" for long. And when he came back, he wore a jazzy black suit, had long hair, but his powers weren't quite back up to their former levels yet (the explanation was that his internal "solar battery" still needed to be recharged), so he carried a big honkin' gun!
Here's an interesting figure, based on a lame super-villain. DC may have had plans to make this guy a major threat, but somehow that never came to pass. Hands up if you even remember who this guy is? As far as the figure goes, this one is quite nice...it's got an action feature that works really well, a removable helmet/mask, and some cool coils to wrap around other figures.
The other basic figure in this line were made-up version of Superman that were never in the comics, so they never made it to my collection. These included Superman decked out with a "Solar Suit", an "Ultra Shield", and as a "Street Guardian". Had the line continued, we no doubt would have seen the other 2 new characters from the "Reign of the Supermen" storyline, or perhaps more of the popular villains from the comics. But sadly, this was not to be, as the line was canceled...then it kind of came back. More on that below...
There were two "Deluxe" figures that were basically the same as the basic figure, except they had some larger accessories included with them. I didn't get them myself, but thanks to my son (who got one as a birthday present), I can photograph one of them for today's feature. (The other one was Superman with "Ultra Heat Vision" gear.)
Steel (Blast Hammer)
Based on his new suit of armor he created when he got his own title, this Steel figure vac-metal deco and included some spring-loaded sledgehammers you could launch at the bad guys, plus a shield that could be worn and spun around on the other hand. Pretty cool, and something I SHOULD have bought, but I never did...
Kenner created a series that included 2 figures and a comic book, with some characters that should arguably have been in the basic figure line (Hello! Doomsday is the villain who started this whole thing!). Still, this was a great way to get more figures out there and introduce new readers to the comics all at the same time.
Hunter-Prey Superman Vs. Doomsday
Based on the sequel comic book series Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey, this set included the main villain from the initial storyline at long last! Oh yeah, and there is also a Superman figure in a New Gods-type uniform, which is pretty cool and all, but I mean we finally got a Doomsday figure! Although you know what? Why didn't Superman just throw the guy into space right at the beginning? Am I right?
Massacre Vs. Full Assault Superman
Here's another one of those villains that probably was meant to be a more popular character. But for some reason, he just didn't take off. What's interesting to me is that the Superman figure included in this set is all kinds of battle-damaged, with his whole suit ripped and torn up. While I'm not a big fan of the "battle ravaged" figures, this one was nicely done, and if he had short hair, would have made a great companion figure to Doomsday.
Cyber-Link Superman & Cyber-Link Batman
You just can't have a 1990s DC toy line without The Dark Knight, can you? The Caped Crusader joined the Man of Steel with funky matching "Cyber-Link" suits. Kenner actually got quite a bit of mileage out of these figures through various exclusive repaints in this line, even including versions in the Total Justice line and later Hasbro's JLA line!
Since the majority of the characters in this line can, you know, fly...do they really need vehicles? Of course not. But since kids need them to play with, a handful were made....but they were vehicles that at least made sense. I actually only bought the battle suit shown below, since The World of Krypton is one of my favorite mini-series. However, my other son came through to help me out by providing me with one of his old toys. (The missing vehicle was a car that was actually "borrowed" from the Batman line...which stands out because it included an exclusive Clark Kent figure.)
Kryptonian Battle Suit
As I stated above, The World of Krypton is one of my favorite mini-series, which is where we first saw this suit in the comics. It was brought back into the modern day and the "Laser" Superman emerged from inside of it, not quite fully restored to full power, but ready to once again take on the good fight. This suit is pretty cool because it's big, has action features that make sense, and fits the "pilot" inside.
Superboy VTOL Cycle
From my son's collection. He loved Superboy as a kid, and he dressed up as him for Halloween for years (which was pretty easy costume to make up when you think about it: a Superman T-shirt and a jacket...how hard is that to make?) Anyway, the cycle is a pretty neat vehicle, with a rear wheel that splits apart (creating the Vertical Take-Off & Landing feature), a kickstand, and a launching snare harpoon thing that can be attached to the bike or carried in Superboy's hands. I don't recall if the cycle is actually in the comics, but it's a decent vehicle for this line.
Sadly, the Superman: Man of Steel line was canceled before Kenner could at least produce the missing new characters from the "Reign of the Supermen" crossover. (I guess they were too busy making "Street Guardian Superman" Ugh...) Fortunately, fans got one step closer to completing the set thanks to a ToyFare magazine exclusive!
In ToyFare magazine #17, Hasbro stepped up and offered an exclusive Eradicator Superman action figure to help satisfy fans who wanted to complete the line. This even included an action feature of an "energy form" on the figure's hands and chest that lit up when light was shined behind it.
We never did get the Cyborg Superman action figure for this line, which left me feeling as if I were missing something. We'll never see it now, as this style of action figure wouldn't fly by today's standards, so to me this great toy line will always seem incomplete without it.
Also worth mentioning is that Hasbro later released a pair of 2-pack boxed sets with figures that were designed for this line, under the DC Super Heroes banner: Superman Vs. Metallo (featuring the Superman figure that should have been packed with Doomsday, darn it!) and Superboy Vs. King Shark (who?)
See you next week!