Thursday, April 02, 2009

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 85: Batman: The Animated Series 3-D Board Game (Parker Bros.; 1992)

Beginning in 1992, Batman: The Animated Series aired on the Fox Network's Saturday morning line-up. This stellar superhero program ran for several seasons and was nominated for two Emmy Awards (it won once: for Outstanding Animated Program in 1993). In some markets, the popular series even aired in prime time.

I was an aficionado of this incarnation of Batman for many reasons. First and foremost, I enjoyed the fact that it was crafted in the distinctive visual style of the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 1940s. You know: square jaws, big cars, noir fashions...and big, clunky (but gorgeous...) retro-tech.

I also was impressed with the fact that Batman: The Animated series seemed to provide viewers with, well...the perfectly balanced portrayal of Batman. Our hero was neither oppressively, dogmatically dark just for the hell of it, nor ridiculously, mockingly light.

One episode of the series that I enjoyed especially seemed to meditate on this idea of different Batman incarnations. It was Robert Goodman's "Legends of the Dark Knight, a tale in which three children -- while walking the crime-ridden streets of Gotham -- discussed various rumors about the mysterious Batman and his gadgets. Their perceptions of Batman formed the lead-in to several briefer stories of varying styles. There was an "Old Chum," camp version of Batman (genuflecting to the 1960s pop-sensation, replete with over-sized props like a giant metronome), and there was a Frank Miller/Dark Knight style, post-apocalyptic interpretation too. I appreciated how the episode artfully attempted to integrate all variations of the caped crusader mythos before introducing its series star, "the real Batman" of the series: a grim opponent of criminals, but one who existed somewhere between the extreme poles of hard-bitten vigilante and jokey buffoon.

At a yard sale, sometime in the early 1990s, I came across some merchandise from Batman: The Animated Series and one item caught my eye. The Batman: The Animated Series 3-D Board Game seems -- in some fashion -- to be the spiritual heir of the much sought-after 1970s Amsco Cardboard Playsets (Planet of the Apes, Space:1999, The Waltons, The Marvel Universe). So it's right up my nostalgic alley.

In essence, this board game is a 3-D heavy-cardboard recreation of Batman's lair, the Batcave. Or as the back of the box describes the setting:

"Batman has been working night and day to rid Gotham City of crime, and he's fallen asleep at the console of his crime-stopping computer, deep inside the 3-dimensional Batcave. While he sleeps, Batman dreams that the cave has been invaded by the worst criminal riff-raff...bad guys like The Penguin and the Joker...Catwoman and Poison Ivy...The Mad Hatter and Mr. Freeze. His partner Robin has been trying to fight them, but he's in great danger.

You and your friends must help Batman capture the villains and save Robin!

Now just go ahead and discard the cheesy Batman-asleep at his Bat Computer "dream" scenario and what you actually have here is a cool diorama of a very-Fleischer-like Batcave, plus plethora of stylized cardboard characters from Batman's universe. There's Scarecrow, The Riddler and Harley Quinn, among others. There's even a cardboard cut-out of the 1940s-looking Batmobile, big front grill and all.

If you're a Batman fan and remember this animated chapter of the legend fondly, the 3-D Board Game is a pretty cool collectible of early nineties vintage. I've had it kept away in storage for a bit, but I took it out to show Joel this morning. He was mesmerized by the toy, and wanted to drop several of the figures into what he called "the bat dungeon."Joel already knows Batman, Robin and The Joker by name, and today learned about Mr. Freeze. Unfortunately, he took one look at Catwoman and said "Wonder Woman!"

I'll work on him...


  1. Great, great show! That episode you cite owes more than a little to "The Batman Nobody Knows" a tale written by Frank Robbins and drawn by Dick Giordano that originally appeared in Batman #250 but which has been reprinted many a time.

    The game looks really neat! I owned the cardboard Marvel Universe playset - I think I've still got Captain Mar-Vell around here somewhere.

  2. Hey Vincent,

    I share your admiration for this Batman series -- it was awesome.

    The game is super cool, but I'd give up a kidney for that Marvel Universe playset from Amsco! :)


  3. dave starry6:22 PM

    Not a bad little game for the kids either. Great bits and the game play was enough to even keep me (an avid board game collector) fairly engaged. This one got a lot of playing time back in the late 90s when my kids were young. Alas, all that cardboard suffered the ravages of time and rough children's hands, and our copy is now long gone.

  4. You wouldnt happen to know where i could get a copy of the directions of how to play the game? My son recently picked it up at a thrift store and he really wants to play the game.