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Batman (Classic TV Series)
by yo go re

Batman originally rolled around in a perfectly normal red sedan convertable, but in Detective Comics #48, it gained a bat hood ornament, and that was the start of the slope that's led us through every crazy, stylized Batmobile ever. But of the dozens of different designs there have been over the years, the most popular and recognizable remains the one from the classic TV series.

Batman and Robin have many gadgets in their arsenal, but none more hi-tech and stylish than the Batmobile - ready to power on with the touch of a button, when the Dynamic Duo find themselves faced with imminent danger, laser beams, magnets, and a parachute jettison button become quite useful, and there's no need to worry about villainous takeovers, good citizen, the anti-theft activator is all the Caped Crusader needs to protect his invaluable vehicle.

When 20th Century Fox was preparing to start their show, they contacted Dean Jeffries to build them a car. He started with a '59 Cadillac, but couldn't get the job done in time, so the project passed to George Barris, who had three weeks to finish. Barris took a Lincoln Futura he'd gotten from MGM (it was originally provided by Ford for the 1959 film It Started With a Kiss, but Ford never took the car back; MGM had Barris store it, but failed to pay the storage fees, so he bought it from them for $1), painted it black and added a few modifications, and a classic icon was born.

The car is in scale for the 6" figures, so it's a lot bigger than you'd expect - it's about 18" long and 6½ wide, so it's going to require a lot of space to store or display. The wheels roll, but there are no other play features: the doors don't open (Barris insists he welded them shut so the heroes would have to jump in and out dynamically, but they absolutely opened like regular), the trunk doesn't open, there are no pop-out gadgets... it's basically a super-sized Hot Wheels car, molded plastic instead of die-cast metal.

That said, Mattel is the home of Hot Wheels, so they know how to make toy cars. The lines and shapes of the car are perfect, from the pointed batwing tailfins to the "nasal cavity" air intake on the hood. The hubcaps have red bat symbols in the center, and the underside of the car has various... under-car... things. Axels? Driveshaft? Jeffries tubes? I don't know. Doesn't matter, how often are you going to be looking under the car?

The interior looks very nice - there are various devices on the dashboard under the windshield glass, two red buttons above the half-circle steering wheel, a red bat-phone, several bright red levers on the center console, a fire extinguisher, levers and buttons on the overhead frame, etc. Unfortunately, "looking" very nice is all we get: the steering wheel turns, but that's it; the levers don't move, the phone's handset can't be taken off the cradle, the only thing that actually works are the seatbelts, and even those are faked, plugging in on the sides rather than actually clasping in the middle. This is unquestionably a piece you're supposed to look at and never touch.

Which may also explain why, instead of making the toy's box like, you know, every other box in existence, with a flap that tucks into other flaps and is taped shut, they glued that muthafugga shut like they were sealing leaks in a submarine. Super industrial-strength glue all over both ends of the box, so you literally have to tear it apart to get the box open. This is Mattel saying "screw you if you want to play with our toy, and screw you again if you ever want to put it away for storage." The company has never met an idea it couldn't do wrong.

Toys Я Us (the only store that ever seemed to carry this line) sold an exclusive version of the Batmobile with Batman and Robin for $80, then later started carrying the plain version for "only" $60 (suggesting that these figures are actually worth $10 apiece). Meanwhile, I waited and got it from Amazon for $17, which seems to be about the right price for it. The construction is cheap and unless you count "rolling wheels" as a play feature, it doesn't have any. There's no way Mattel should have tried selling this for more than $30. Clearly a huge part of the expense is that, like ED-209, the distinctive design is owned by creator and only leased out to the production company, meaning Mattel had to pay twice for the rights. Still, they passed too much of that cost on to the consumer, banking on nostalgia to turn us into fools.

-- 01/07/16

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