Superman debuted in 1938 in "Action Comics" #1. In a little over a year, officially licensed Superman toys were already on the market, like Daisy's official Superman Krypto-Raygun. That was the start of almost 80 decades' worth of superhero related toys. Obviously, in the 1990s, there was an explosion in popularity due to Kenner's line of Batman toys and Toy Biz's many Marvel toys (they made so many Marvel action figures that they ended up buying the company).
When you get that many products, though, not all of them are going to be winners. Some of them are going to be downright odd -- and that's something that has been true of superhero toys throughout history. With that in mind, here below, we count down the all-time weirdest superhero toys!
15 SUPERMAN KRAZY KOIL
One of the amusing things about licensed products is that if you push it to the extreme, you can slap the "Superman" label on pretty much anything. If you paid DC the licensing fee and you're not making anything objectionable, DC will let you make your product a "Superman" brand. You make shoehorns? Superman brand shoehorns. A company that would take DC up on that situation was Durham Products Inc.
They made a number of cheap novelty products, some featuring DC's heroes like Batman and Superman, like these tiny water guns that would spit water out of Superman and Batman's mouths (more on that later). Other products, though, just had Superman's name and logo slapped on a product he had nothing to do with. That's how we ended up with a Superman brand "Krazy Koil," which is just a knock-off Slinky without Superman's name even on the coils. Thanks to "Collecting Superman" for the info about the Koil.
14 X-MEN SAVAGE LAND LINE
In the 1990s, Toy Biz was making loads of cash with their "X-Men" line of action figures. When you have a successful line of toys, though, you have to keep putting out new products to keep the game going. In addition, Toy Biz wanted to make sure that they always had a Wolverine toy in each new addition to the line, because Wolverine was so popular. As a result, over time, the new additions to the line became increasingly odd.
One of the ways that they would get ideas for new additions to the line was to go into the actual comics to see if there's anything that they could adapt. In 1997, Toy Biz went to Marvel's Savage Land for inspiration for a new batch of toys. The Savage Land is a place of untouched wilderness hidden in Antarctica where dinosaurs continue to roam. It was basically a knock-off of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World." So for this line, each X-Men just came with a toy dinosaur. No rhyme or reason, just wham, an X-Men toy and a dinosaur toy slapped together.
13 KRYPTONITE ROCK
In 1975, advertising executive Gary Dahl had one of those proverbial "million dollar ideas." He heard his friends complaining about their pets and he thought that, hey, it'd be fun if you had a pet that you didn't have to worry about feeding or cleaning. That was the inspiration behind pet rocks. He would get a rock and put it in a box and treat it like it was a serious pet. The rock would come with an "instruction manual" on how to take care of the pet rock.
It was such an odd idea, but it amused enough people that he sold over a million pet rocks in six months before the fad died out due to it being, you know, a pet rock. Well, there never was a fad that other people wouldn't try to copy and then sell to kids in the backs of comic books; thus, "Kryponite Rock" was born. It was a rock that was painted glow-in-the-dark green and, well, that's pretty much the gist of the idea. It came out in 1977 and copied the pet rock in every way, right down to the instruction manual.
12 BAT SIGNAL JET
One of the interesting things about the success of the 1989 "Batman" movie is that it showed the licensing toy company, Kenner, that there was a whole lot of money to be made in selling Batman toys. This was made even more true a few years later when "Batman: The Animated Series" debuted and they had a new engine that they could use to sell toys.
The issue was that the bigger money was in selling vehicles, but the problem is that there really are only a few basic vehicles that Batman uses. So, they had to get creative. One of the strangest ideas they had for a vehicle was a Bat Signal Jet. Yes, a jet that Batman would fly that would... project his own bat-signal; because, you know, that would be something that Batman could really use, right? "Oh no, those dastardly crooks are getting away! Quick, Batman, call Batman!"
11 FLASH MOTORCYCLE
A recurring problem with making vehicles for superhero characters is that there are quite a number of superheroes where it really doesn't make sense for them to have vehicles. This is why you will see more than a few toy vehicles on this list. When DC licensed out toys to coincide with its popular "Justice League" animated TV series in the early 2000s, Mattel (which gained the DC toy license in 2003) naturally wanted to make vehicles that would go with each of the members of the team.
With the Flash, Mattel decided to give him a motorcycle, because, after all, the one thing that Flash needs is something for him to ride that would allow him to go fast. We "worry" that this sent a bad message to little kids that, hey, why bother exerting effort? If the Flash can't even be bothered to run to get places, what hope do we all have to get anything done?
One of the big changes between comic books now and in the past is that you don't see comic books worrying about having to tie in with the multitude of toys that come out for each of the character titles. Imagine having to be Larry Hama in the 1990s having to come up with comic book explanations for some of the later toys in the "G.I. Joe" line of figures, like when the Joes became Eco-Warriors. Back in the 1970s, though, when superhero toys were much less common, it made some sense for DC Comics to help promote a new Superman-related toy.
This is how the so-called "Supermobile" got to appear in a two-part story (two parts!) in "Action Comics" in 1978 that featured Superman trying to fight Amazo without the use of his powers. Thus, he build a Supermobile that could mimic his powers, right down to his punching! Corgi Toys made two different size die-cast Supermobile toys that sold very well in the late 1970s.
9 SPACE RIDERS BEAST
As noted before, Toy Biz would often at least try to look to the X-Men comics for ideas for their toy lines. They certainly used a lot of characters from the "X-Men" comics (which led to some bizarre choices for characters to get their own action figure, including super obscure characters like Fitzroy and Quark). In early 1997, "Uncanny X-Men" had a storyline where the X-Men went into outer space on a mission involving Deathbird, and they all wore new space costumes.
Later in 1997, Toy Biz came out with "Space Riders" X-Men toys (honestly, it could have just been a coincidence) featuring X-Men characters that had special outer space armor that you could put them in, obviously so that they could go fight in outer space. The problem was that the line also included Beast, only Beast isn't wearing space armor like the rest, so it's just, "Well, sorry, Beast, we couldn't spring for the space armor. I guess you're just going to die out here."
8 DIVE CLAW ROBIN
Just like how Toy Biz had to keep coming out with X-Men toys, so too did Kenner (by this point, purchased by Hasbro, but operating as its own line within Hasbro) have to keep coming out with Batman toys, and by the mid-1990s, that meant digging through the comic book source material to find anything that the company could sell, after the 1994 release of the "Legends of Batman" toys did not go over with buyers.
In 1996, Kenner released a line of toys called "Legends of the Dark Knight" that was based on the then-popular line of Elseworlds comic books featuring Batman. Elseworlds were sort of like "What If...?" comics, but they went even further. They were basically anything that writers wanted to do, just somehow involving Batman. Thus, these toys would have Batman and Robin wearing "neural suits" -- armor that would respond to their imagination, so the toys would be way freakier than normal Batman fare, including this Robin figure where Robin has monster wings.
7 MONSTER ARMOR WOLVERINE
While Toy Biz would at least attempt to look into the comic books for ideas, the company was naturally putting out so many toys per year that it often had to just come up with ideas on its own. One of the strangest ones was 1996's "Monster Armor" line of toys. The concept was that Mister Sinister had captured a few of the X-Men (Rogue, Cyclops and Wolverine) and he decided to mutate them and transform them into monsters. Mystique showed up to try to save Rogue and shape-shifted herself into a monster, as well. Just FYI.
So, each of the toys would be normal X-Men figures except then you could place monster arms, feet and heads on to them to transform them into monsters. Besides the general oddity of the concept, it is weird that they call these things monster armor and not, like, monster masks or something like that. Also, Wolverine, for some strange reason, actually gets a name for his newly created monster -- "Fangor."
6 SPIDER-MAN AND FANTASTIC FOUR BOARD GAME
Milton Bradley was one of the most prominent board game companies in the world until it was purchased by Hasbro in 1984 (the company kept using the name on its board games, but eventually discontinued that practice in 2010). They made some major hit games like Battleship, Connect Four, Twister and Candyland, but they were also quite willing to put out licensed products for pretty much anything that would catch a buyer's eye. This began to include superhero games after the "Batman" TV series caused an explosion of interest in superhero products in 1966.
The next year, Milton Bradley first licensed Marvel's Spider-Man and Fantastic Four for a board game that is hilarious in how little regard it has for the characters that it is licensing. The game itself is not a bad one, but it just has very little to do with the actual comics. It involves defeating villains, but despite Spider-Man having one of the best rogues galleries in all of comics, the baddies in the game include some actual Spider-Man villains, but also Shotgun, Cat Burglar, Slugger, Thunder Bull and Lion Face. It's striking how little thought they put into making it true to the license.
5 ANTI-VIRUS BRUCE WAYNE
"Legends of the Dark Knight" did not work for Kenner, and executives were getting increasingly desperate. Hasbro ended up getting rid of Kenner entirely after 2000, with the Batman toy license eventually ending up at Mattel in 2003 (after Hasbro finished out the license under the Kenner name even with Kenner closed up). However, before that happened, Kenner tried one last new batch of Batman toys. Debuting in 1998, they were called "Mission Masters." The idea was that Batman would have specific missions that he would need very specific types of weaponry and gear to complete.
As you might imagine, some of these missions got downright bizarre, and it led to some of the oddest-looking Batman costumes ever (lots of day glo colors and glow-in-the-dark stuff). Likely the oddest of the missions, and hence its place here on the list, was Anti-Virus Bruce Wayne. How do you depict getting rid of a computer virus? Why, through some sort of fiery hula hoop, of course! And to make the thing extra weird, it's "Bruce Wayne" instead of "Batman" for some strange reason. "Mission Masters" is responsible for likely 75% of what people think of when they think of "weird Batman toys."
4 SPIDER-MAN ADVENTURE HERO LINE
Spider-Man's "Adventure Hero" line of toys is fascinating because, unlike a lot of the other toys on the list, they were clearly intended to be bizarre. Produced by Playskool, the concept of the line is that Spider-Man would do things outside of his comfort zone but very much in the comfort zone of, well, everyone else in the world.
Thus, you would have Spider-Man playing basketball, Spider-Man playing soccer, Spider-Man bungee jumping (somehow, it seems unlikely that a guy who swings from buildings would find much thrill in something like bungee jumping, though, particularly since it might also remind him of a particularly infamous "snap" in his life). In one of the more hilarious figures, Spider-Man is riding a Razor scooter. Spider-Man going to the beach is also an especially funny one, as is Safari Spider-Man. Since they're all pretty much the same level of funny, though, we just included the line as a whole.
3 JUSTICE JOGGER
As noted earlier, coming up with toy vehicles has always been a difficult task for superhero lines where the superhero in question does not really need a vehicle. However, even with that difficulty noted, it seems hard to believe that Kenner would go where they went with the Justice Jogger. In 1984, Kenner launched the "Super Powers" line of superhero action figures based on DC Comics superheroes, hot on the tail of Mattel having great success with its "He-Man" line of toys, so manufacturers were quickly looking for the next "He-Man," and Marvel and DC seemed like it (Mattel themselves did a Marvel "Secret Wars" line in 1984).
First, the company brought back the Supermobile and re-designed it so that the Superman action figure could actually sit in it. However, looking for another Superman toy, Kenner came up with the most bizarre vehicle ever: the Justice Jogger. This was a walking toy for Superman because... well, we guess sometimes walking is just too much for Superman? Sure, why not.
2 BATMAN SQUIRT GUN
When the "Batman" TV series launched in 1966, so too did "Batmania" begin. People were completely unprepared for how popular the show would become and, as a result, a licensing bonanza unlike any the world had ever seen started. Other characters certainly had a lot of licensed products, but this was the first time that a character would have so many products all launched at more or less the same exact time. It was pandemonium. You name a product and there was likely some sort of Batman tie-in to that product in 1966 and 1967.
Likely the most bizarre is a water pistol where the trigger is, well, Batman's crotch. The same company made a Popeye water pistol in the same exact manner, but it's still awfully funny to be squeezing Batman's crotch to make water squirt out of his mouth. We won't even get into where you load the water!
1 PUNISHER SHAPE SHIFTERS
In 1998, Toy Biz launched a popular line of action figures with their Marvel characters called "Shape Shifters." It was an attempt to mix together Marvel superheroes with the popular Transformers toys, as each of these figures would feature a Marvel hero who would "transform" into something else. There were regular versions as well as deluxe versions, which, as you might expect, would have more elaborate transformations.
Wolverine's "Shape Shifter" was weird because he transformed into a giant wolf. Why not a, y'know, wolverine? Spider-Man at least transformed into a giant spider. And Venom transformed into a giant serpent. Anyhow, a number of the "Shape Shifters" would transform into bazookas and missile launchers that would actually fire projectiles. In the case of the Punisher, he transformed into a gun that would shoot out a projectile. The problem is that while you were in the midst of transforming the Punisher, the area for the projectile happened to be right out of the Punisher's crotch, making for one strange image. Wertham was right all along!
In this week's Comic Book Legends Revealed, we discovered that the above Wolverine inflatable toy hammer is for real! We would have included it on the list, but the issue is that the toy was first revealed to the internet in an article on the satirical website ChristWire. When people realized that ChristWire was, in fact, a satirical website (and that they were not actually claiming that Marvel was promoting a "gay agenda" with the toy), people reasonably assumed that the toy was a hoax. We thought so, as well, so we did not include it on the list.
However, as it turned out, while the article itself was a joke, the photograph was not. The toy really does exist. There are two drawings of Wolverine. One on the front and one on the back, and the one on the back contains that hilariously placed blow-up tube. So while it was too late to include it on the original list, we figured it was worth adding it to the list as a bonus toy, so you know that we would have had it if we knew it was legit.
What's the weirdest superhero toy you've ever seen? Let us know in the comments section!