THE ULTIMATE BATMAN COLLECTION, FILLED WITH ACTION FIGURES, ROBOTS, PUPPETS, GAMES AND PROTOTYPES SPANNING DECADES AND CONTINENTS, LEAPS INTO AUCTION
By Robert Wilonsky
“There’s no escape. It’s all over the place. Madness! Supermadness! The entertainment world offers it on all sides, and the public gobble it up. Batman conquers TV. Kids swing Batman capes in the backyard, and Bat products are everywhere. In the theater, craziness is the new craze. The whole country is deliberately, and profitably, going nuts.”
That was written in March 1966, when a giddy, grinning Adam West, dressed as ABC’s Pop-Goes-the-Batman, appeared on the cover of Life alongside the headline “Batman makes a mighty leap into national popularity.” Plus ça change! Because 57 years on, the Caped Crusader has never been more prevalent in popular culture – in theaters and comic shops, of course, or the shelves of toy stores and big-box chains adorned with every iteration of the Dark Knight dating back to West’s Bright Knight. Batmania lives – no, Batman thrives in every corner of almost every country.
And it all began in 1966, as evidenced by the fact more than half of the exceedingly rare toys, action figures, vehicles, robots, puppets, games, models, a slot machine and more available in Heritage Auctions’ inaugural Ultimate Batman Collection Signature® Auction date from that year. The August 4-5 event also features impossible-to-find collectibles from all over the world: the United States, the United Kingdom, South America, Europe, many from Japan and the only known piece to hail from India.
“Without a doubt, this is the most comprehensive Batman collection ever to come up for auction, containing many beyond-rare and unique items,” says Ed Kelly, who spent 40 years assembling most of this collection before parting with it in 2015. “It would be almost impossible to put a vintage collection of this magnitude together today.”
And one of the modern centerpieces – Hot Toys’ one-of-a-kind 2016 1:6-scale Batcave diorama, with a Batmobile and four “strange costumes” lifted straight from the cover of Detective Comics No. 165 – replicates Adam West’s underground lair down to the Batcomputer, Anti-Crime Eye Checker and Batanalyst. And, of course, West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin are standing alongside that sweet ride.
Holy prototype, indeed.
This diorama was first displayed at the Batman 100 Hot Toys exhibition in Tokyo in September 2016, coinciding with the release of the first Suicide Squad movie. Visitors to the show were overwhelmed, and with good reason: The diorama is 9 feet wide, 5 feet deep and 4 feet tall – room enough to display all the custom-made pieces, including the Batmobile that first roared into the San Diego Comic-Con four years earlier. Hot Toys planned to roll out the iconic vehicle soon thereafter, but this remains the only one.
“As a Hot Toys collector, I know the challenge of finding just the right spot to display an amazing new piece,” says Heritage’s Consignment Director of Action Figures and Toys, Justin Caravoulias. “With this set, your problem is solved. This handmade work, for which Hot Toys is famous, gives you the feeling that you’re in the presence of something extraordinary. It demands to be at the center of someone’s Batman collection.”
So, too, the other Hot Toys diorama available for the first time in this auction: a montage of several scenes from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, whose Dark Knight, Michael Keaton, resurfaced this summer in The Flash. A lot is happening in this titanic scene in the shadow of the Axis Chemicals sign. Jack Nicholson’s Joker and his sidekick Bob stand beside the helicopter parked alongside the clown balloon meant to gas Gotham City into oblivion. Below is Batman standing next to the Batmobile designed by Anton Furst, who won an Oscar for his work on Burton’s film. The whole thing reeks of rust, corrosion and cigarette smoke – in the best possible sense.
This diorama was also displayed at the Batman 100 Hot Toys exhibition. And it, too, is the only one in existence.
But everything here is nearly impossible to find, even those toys once mass-manufactured – the costumes, the utility belts and some 100 tin toys made for Japanese enthusiasts in the 1960s.
Kelly says of his former assemblage, which comes from all corners of the globe, “This really is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to add the rarest of pieces to your own collection.”
Among their lot are original paintings by Walt Howarth, the British artist best known for his Doctor Who, Tarzan and Batman “annual” comic covers in the U.K. Howarth also painted the covers for some of the toys, scrapbooks and puzzles offered in this auction, and 23 of his original Batman packaging paintings are featured. Not one of them should have survived.
“They’re all one-of-a-kind works,” Caravoulias says. “Howarth had a habit of creating two copies of each piece because he would create an original painting, then send it to the publisher – who would destroy it after it was used. Howarth would paint two almost identical: one he would send; one he would keep.”
“Although the pieces in this auction are no longer mine, it is still exciting to see them moving on to new custodians,” Kelly adds. “I have little doubt this auction will be remembered and talked about amongst collectors for years to come.”
ROBERT WILONSKY is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.