Evolutions: Super Powers
September 25, 2011

There exists a passionate band of action figure anthropologists who are quite certain that the Big Bang for super hero parumplasticus populus [Latin: little plastic people] occurred in 1984. It isn’t that articulated super heroes (albeit more primitive) did not exist prior to the emergence of the Super Powers. They did. {see Kingdom: MEGO, Species, World’s Greatest Super Heroes} But through natural selection Super Powers quickly became the dominant species. And that legacy endures. It has taken almost 30 years for a population with an appropriate level of inherited traits to surface that distinguishes itself as the clear descendant of the Super Powers family. That new species is Mattel’s DC Universe Classics. Let’s compare…

Parumplacticus poplulus anthropologists, Cantina-Dan and xrmc20, have collaborated to present this entry into the Action Figure Insider Observer’s Field Guide.

Toys  |   Domain   Toys
Comic Book Characters |   Kingdom   Comic Book Characters
DC  |   Phylum   DC
Little Plastic People  |   Class   Little Plastic People
Articulated  |   Order   |  Articulated
Kenner |   Family   Mattel
Four Inch  |   Genus   Six Inch
Super Powers  |   Species   DC Universe Classics

fig 1. Superman

fig 2. Green Lantern

fig 3. The Flash

fig 4. Batman

fig 5. Robin

fig 6. Hawkman

fig 7. Aquaman

fig 8. Wonder Woman

fig 9. Red Tornado

fig 10. Martian Manhunter

fig 11. Firestorm

fig 2. Green Arrow

fig 13. Dr. Fate

fig 14. Darkseid

fig 15. Lex Luthor

fig 16. Brainiac

fig 17. The Joker

fig 18. The Penguin

fig 19. Steppenwolf

fig 20. Kalibak

fig 21. Parademon

fig 22. Desaad

fig 23. Mantis

fig 24. Shazam!

fig 25. Cyborg

fig 26. Golden Pharoah

fig 27. Cyclotron

fig 28. Orion

fig 29. Samurai

fig 30. Mister Miracle

fig 31. Plastic Man

fig 32. Mr. Freeze

fig 33. Tyr

fig 34. Clark Kent

Danny "CantinaDan" Neumann
Action figure anthropologist, Professor Cantina Dan Neumann has been a scholastic contributor to the online community studying the complex world of parumplasticus populus {little plastic people} since the turn of this millenium. His primary focus is the visual cataloging of species exhibits through photo-journalism.
Read other articles by Danny "CantinaDan" Neumann.





  • demoncat says:

    nice pictures and article. the pics prove that dc classics is the super powers line reborn. with the figures and characters from the original line upgraded in size plus also mattel doing the characters who were suppose to be in the line like blue devil and never happen in the original.

    • Danny CantinaDan says:

      Yes, such a bummer that the “Fourth Wave” and beyond never made it. Yet another line to die an untimely death! Blue Devil! 🙁

  • mat-chow says:

    The Mattel Clark Kent is tres lanky. With a pinhead. Not a wonderful execution.

  • Vader says:

    Mirum blog. Amor imagines istorum comparationes.

  • Sector1014 says:

    As I looked back through the pics, I tried to pick my favorite character based on the sum total of pure toy badassedness across both lines. I’m going with Steppenwolf. While I prefer the original Kirby design of him, and love that they made that version too, the SP-design of Steppenwolf is just a badass dude in both SP and DCUC. Spikes! Electro-Axe! Fu Manchu! Mean looking SOB. Name with “wolf” in it. STEPPENWOLF!

    • Danny CantinaDan says:

      Yeah, that’s tricky. Having had a chance to really examine each figure for this photo shoot I think I got most excited about the Super Powers Red Tornado. Just a cool looking figure. Good thing I stole yours.

      • Sector1014 says:

        🙂 Yes, the SP Red Tornado is great. But the problem here is that I was talking about the total coolness of a character if you take the coolness of the fig from each line and combine it into one total cool factor, and in this case, the DCUC Red Tornado has some issues. The way they did the paint on his collar, the stiffness of the cape, the wide stance. I wouldn’t mind a re-do on him actually, although I’m sure that would annoy everyone else. 🙂

        • Danny CantinaDan says:

          Well, excuse freaking me for playing fast and loose with your TCF (Total Coolness Factor). I obviously overlooked the “Total” part of that equation. Yes, you did explain to me the blunders on the DCUC Red Tornado. So I’ll apply for a do-over. IMHO, TCF winner goes to Hawkman. First of all, because he was one of the handful of SP figs I had as a kid. Still have him, in fact. Guess I’ve always like the color combinations of his costume. He’s got wings and a mace. Ya know, I’d like to see him in a fist fight with Steppenpuppy. Finally, the modern version of Hawkman is one of the few DCUC figures I own. See: http://www.actionfigureinsider.com/blog/cantinadan/short-tale-of-a-geeky-coincidence/

  • Clutch says:

    Great work you guys. Darwin must be smiling somewhere right now.

    • Danny CantinaDan says:

      Perhaps, but that’s because I’ve slaughtered his beautiful theory for the sake of an action figure blog! (Well worth it, IMHO.)

  • Chris Daugherty says:

    Man, what an awesome trip through memory lane. I love the comparisons, though some are streching(Mr. Freeze,Kalibak), but that is no fault of yours. I agree that the Clark DC superheroes is pretty lackluster and needs to be redone. I would like a Bruce WayneClark Kent two pack, but with the new reboot line coming I really doubt we will get them.

    • Danny CantinaDan says:

      Yeah, I know this kind’uv comparison has been discussed ad infinitum, but since I don’t collect either line I haven’t been paying as close attention. (Not to say I don’t LOVE both lines. I do. Really.) But as I was photographing this series, those were the two I had the hardest time with. Oh, and Orion. Had trouble deciding whether or not to include the DCUC harness. On this topic, in the spirit of full disclosure, the only bit of photo manipulation I did was to retouch out Mr. Freeze’s big red gun.

  • George says:

    When was Clark kent offered?

  • ero says:

    I can live with the Freeze repaint, but we have to have an SP Kalibak and Orion for it to truly be a complete Super Powers redux. Their current looks are just too comic-accurate to display with Super Powers figures. I can’t do it! 🙂

  • Daniel Pickett Julius Marx says:

    This makes me happy to look at.

    • Danny CantinaDan says:

      w00t, the boss is happy! Is it time to ask for that raise? Seriously, though, I love the dedication so many here at AFi have to the Super Powers line. Although I only have a few figures, I’ve really come to appreciate just how rad it really is!

  • Mrs. Pretticute says:

    Being a lover of vintage everything with a general belief that o.g. always rules, I was fully prepared to comment that the vintage figures were better than the new guys but alas, I couldnt. The new Robin, complete with a neck, is way tougher looking than his older, Donny Osmond looking friend. Green Arrow, old and new, looks like he should be the cover model for Out Magazines Super Hero issue. Old Penguin, however, WAY WAY cooler than the new one that looks like he had lap band surgery.

    Nice work fellas.

    • Danny CantinaDan says:

      ROTFL. Thanks for the observations, Miss Pretticute. Its sad that in a line of 34 figures only one is female: Wonder Woman. But like a girl on an action figure collecting message board, she was prolly pretty popular!

  • Don Ricciardi says:

    I need this set up as a poster.

  • MisterPL says:

    Someday (hopefully soon) we’ll be able to do this with Kenner’s Star Wars line.

  • Matt says:

    Winner: Super Powers

    I love Super Powers so damn much.

    I wish someone on this website would write a full-fledged, now-it-can-be-told retrospective on Super Powers figures. I mean, just go all out and do a full-fledged investigation. Interview sculptors, designers, and everyone involved with the creation and marketing of the line.

    I just can’t get enough Super Powers. When I am 80 years old, I’ll still love Super Powers.

  • Matt says:

    I love Super Powers.

  • Nick in NY says:

    No doubt about it, SUPER POWERS is superior in sculpting and overall quality. Mattel’s are more articulated, of course, but the larger size makes
    the articulated joints too obvious and sort of goofy looking. Mattel’s are also not well proportioned and in some cases, like their Clark Kent, way out of scale. Not only is he a pin-head, but his arms are waaay too long like some circus freak. Someday, I hope someone brings back SUPER POWERS in the ORIGINAL scale and quality that Kenner had in the mid 1980’s.

    • Danny CantinaDan says:

      I’m also not a fan of articulation that detracts from the aesthetics of a figure. I think the 4H are doing the best they can. Lord knows, DCUC looks a million times better than Marvel Legends! Totally agree that Super Powers are the bomb.

  • Mikey says:

    I think Mattel and the Horsemen deserve a huge amount of credit for trying to give us back a version of the toys we loved as kids.

    And maybe our kids will look back in 20 years and these will be their “Super Powers” memories…

  • Brad Rader says:

    I love this article because I truly love SP and the Horsemen’s versions as well. But there is a tiny mistake in the pics. The Kenner Mr. Freeze is wearing the clear Toy Biz Super Heroes dome instead of the colored dome that actually came with the Kenner Super Powers version. Sorry to be the jerk that had to point it out, but I thought you would want to know so it could be fixed. It really is a great assortment of pics.

  • Zodach says:

    Great comparison pictures! What an accomplishment by Mattel and the Four Horsemen to get through every single Super Powers character in the DCSH/DCUC line. It’s been a lot of fun to collect and watch this come together.

    • Danny CantinaDan says:

      Thanks, Z! It was really fun to do this blog. Trying to get each pairing set up so that they were in almost identical poses was sometimes challenging. But, hey, what is this if not an excuse to PLAY with our toys, hehe.

  • Matt says:

    I don’t think there are many tangible, real objects I love more than Super Powers. The funny thing is, I didn’t “just discover” SP one day as an adult fanboy–I have loved this line since Day One as a 10 year old and my love for these toys has never abated.

    Not to get too obsessive here, but like a good stable marriage my love for SP has evolved over the years. I loved SP as a kid in part because obviously they were the only DC figures around at the time which allowed my friends and I to create our own “super friends” style adventures. But even back then I appreciated the craftmanship in the sculpting. I remember having discussions with my friends about the perfectly detailed costumes and how awesome that was. I am not kidding when I say that the very first time I saw the Green Lantern figure hanging on the peg, it was as if it had come straight from my imagination (fueled by the GL comics I was obsessed with) and willed into hard reality…

    Today I still love GL and each and every one of the other “33.” In the twenty five years since SP, I have seen many toy lines come and go but none, IMO, have recaptured the magic and fun of SP.

    DCUC is great, no doubt about it. And I certainly meant no disrespect to those who love that line. I get it. It’s just that, in my HUMBLE opinion, I don’t really see a “toy” when I look at a DCUC sculpt. In most cases, I see them as beautifully realized statues for fanboys that just don’t resonate the same way SP does (at least for me).

    I guess to sum all this up…when I was a kid I thought SP were “awesome.” Today, as an adult, they’re simply adorable, loveable toys.

    • Danny Cantina-Dan says:

      Thanks for your comments, Matt! I really enjoy hearing your childhood Super Powers reminiscences. I’m a lover of the “toy quality” of vintage, myself. Hope my Green Lantern photo captured some of the magic!

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