BATMAN: FIRST SHOT OR NOT?
Many prototype collectors, regardless of their toy line(s) focus, agree provenance is vitally important when it comes to purchasing and authenticating toy prototypes. Prototypes periodically surface in the most unlikely places, however the vast majority originate from former company employees or individuals with an association, be it through direct relation or friendship, with a former company employee. Throughout my years of collecting, I've encountered numerous Batman action figures, many without solid provenance, yet lacking copyright information on the inner thigh; a characteristic commonly indicative
of the first shot prototype action figure stage. First shots, for collectors unfamiliar with the term, serve as early tests of the production steel molds to asess the mold's functionality. First shots often surface in a
variety of states including: fully painted & near production quality, unpainted in production color plastic, or unpainted in non-production color plastic. The undated Batman figure type discussed in this article also exhibits other noteworthy characteristics including differences in the chest emblem, torso details, and blue paint color/gloss. While these obvious differences make the figure appear pre-production, the lack of provenance attached to most of the
examples caused some concern as to whether they were truly prototypes. Comparisons with figures distributed by various international licensees never adequately answered the question as to whether these Batman figures were simply international loose figures because the combination of notable details never matched up perfectly. Based on these observations I've been hesitant to label undated Batman figures lacking provenance as true first shots, but at the same time refuting the possibility remained challenging. Ironically enough the answer, unbeknownst to me until a recent observation made while photographing a batch of carded figures, has been directly under my nose! What started out as simple photography of a 23-Back (Fan Club Offer) carded Batman figure turned into a rather exciting revelation and gave rise to the necessity of publishing this special feature article in order to explain these "mystery" undated Batman figures.
The photography session with this particular carded Batman should have ended after two photos; front and back views. While setting the carded figure up in my photo area, the crisp detailing of the figure's torso contained within the plastic bubble jumped out at me like never before and quickly triggered
my memory of similar Batman figures I've been asked about in the past that lacked copyright dates, exhibited chest emblem differences from what is commonly seen, exhibited a deeper, glossier blue paint, and (you guessed it!)
exhibited crisp torso details. Upon closer inspection the carded figure contained all of these characteristics. The Kmart price sticker quickly confirmed this carded figure as a full production item, so I continued scrutinizing the packaging in hopes of finding the smoking gun to solve this perplexing mystery. The smoking gun came in the form of three simple words located on the cardback in small black font: Made in Mexico. I quickly began sifting through several other carded Batman figures in my collection and found a common theme: all shared the Made in Hong Kong designation on the cardback and held "normal" Batman figures encased in the plastic bubble....except this one!
How can three words printed on the cardback solve the mystery? Kenner contracted a variety of third party vendors, located in the Orient or Mexico in one vendor's case, to manufacture their action figures. As such, minor variations sometimes show up while comparing action figures from different manufacturing plants. These variations typically manifest themselves as molding variations, paint variations, or both. Thus it stands to reason that Batman action figures produced in a Mexican factory have the best chance of deviating from those produced by one of factories located in The Orient. In fact, with the exception of the emblem, the characteristics found on these undated, "Made in Mexico" Batman figures mimic those found on the Lili Ledy Batman figure. These shared characteristics make sense considering the Mexican factory (owned by Lili Ledy) produced action figures distributed on both Kenner and Lili Ledy packaging. Vintage Star Wars collectors are well versed in this knowledge since this factory gave rise to the "Short Mouth" Biker Scout variation, a variation in the mold for the character's head, found within both Lili Ledy and Kenner "Made in Mexico" packaging. Let's take a closer look at the "Made in Mexico" Batman figure and then compare it to the "Made in Hong Kong" variety.
The "Made in Mexico" Batman's inner thighs are clearly shown in the two photos above. Again, notice that both are completely smooth and totally lack copyright information. The deeper blue paint applied to the gloves, boots, and tights is also evident here. Even the blue plastic used to cast Batman's head features a darker shade than its usual "Made in Hong Kong" counterpart.
The above photo affords a close-up view showing the crisp torso detailing and unique bat symbol chest emblem. Take notice of the thin black band surrounding the chest emblem and the uncompressed bat portion of the emblem. In terms of detailing, notice the prounounced torso muscular definition and the sharp belt buckle details. The "Made in Mexico" figure's bat symbol style is much more
representative of the true bat symbol style.
Having viewed the "Made in Mexico" Batman individually, let's now compare it to the more commonly seen "Made in Hong Kong" Batman figure. To illustrate this comparsion, I've photographed both the "Made in Mexico" Batman sealed inside its packaging along with a "Made in Hong Kong" 33-Back Batman figure, also sealed in its packaging.
The "Made in Mexico" Batman resides in the first of the two images showcased above. The torso detail and chest emblem diferences should be readily apparent from these two images. The blue pain coloration differences
don't show up well in this comparison, however the glossy (Made in Mexico) vs matte (Made in Hong Kong) blue paint is visible. Notice how the flash bounces off the glossy paint.
Having illustrated the "Made in Mexico" Batman figure's unique characteristics and having shown comparison images with the "Made in Hong Kong" figure, I'm confident readers will agree with my assessment that undated Batman figures exhibiting all of the "Made in Mexico" traits should be treated and
viewed as production figures as opposed to first shot prototypes. Provenance is king in this hobby, as is a critical eye for detail, and the "Made in Mexico" Batman topic nicely illustrates the importance
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