Almost exactly thirty years ago, my parents took me to see Batman. When I call it a life-changing experience, it’s without a drip of hyperbole. The film permeated pop culture to the point where even a person who’d never seen the movie still felt like they were drowning in it.
I was an impressionable ten-year-old at the time — the perfect age to basically reshape my entire existence around Batman. At least until that point, it was the single coolest thing I’d ever been into. It was so safe to geek out about that movie, since literally everyone else was, too.
Naturally, I was way into the merchandise. So long as something featured Batman’s logo, I’d buy it. (Or mercilessly pester someone else until they bought it for me, as was typically the case.)
I was totally indiscriminate, but several pieces of Batman merch stood taller than the rest. Collected below are my five favorite items, hastily photographed during a short break between two thunderstorms.
Of all the many posters I owned as a kid, this was easily my favorite. I was obsessed with the Joker, and short of actual criminal activity, I sought to emulate him in every way possible. In effect, this was my version of other kids hanging up posters featuring their greatest sports heroes. I didn’t just enjoy the view; I aspired to be something more.
To be clear, I wasn’t drawn to the Joker because of the terrible things he did. It was the attitude, and the complete indifference toward conventionality. The ability to just be weird without concern. Admittedly, it was also the purple suits.
If I remember it right, I found this poster — commonly called the “seagull poster” — at Spencer Gifts. Spencer’s was Batman central in 1989, and given the chain’s reputation with kids at the time, that only boosted the film’s cool factor.
Toy Biz Batman Figure!
Remember that joke in Wayne’s World 2, about how Frampton Comes Alive albums were distributed with samples of Tide? Think of this action figure along those lines. Even kids who’d expressed no interest in Batman had one.
The figure was part of a larger line of toys, which included other characters, a couple of vehicles and the enormous Batcave playset. You know you’re a hot shit movie when two million kids add Bob the Goon to their Christmas wishlists.
My fave memory associated with this toy line happened on Christmas Day, 1989. I went over my best friend’s house after he and his brothers opened their gifts, which included a Batcave playset that they were intended to share.
Having not received a Batcave myself, I admit to taking spiteful delight in watching them miserably fail in their efforts to “split” the thing. It was like the plastic version of the Judgment of Solomon.
Great Big Button!
Like the Joker poster, this “Great Big Button” was sold at Spencer Gifts. If you don’t remember Great Big Buttons, the title didn’t overpromise. The buttons were almost as large as dinner plates, and looked positively ridiculous on all who wore them.
Once a show, movie or brand achieved Great Big Button status, you knew it’d made it. These were reserved for things like The Simpsons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — stuff that was SO popular and SO white-hot that kids wouldn’t think twice about wearing reverent buttons the size of hubcaps.
I’ve written about Batman Cereal before, but it can’t go unmentioned in a tribute to that movie’s merch. (Well, I guess it could if you don’t qualify cereal as merchandise, but in this particular case, I sure do.)
Check out that box design. It looked like it was transplanted from Toys “R” Us to the supermarket. Those other cereals didn’t stand a chance.
The flavor was good by Ralston’s standards, but it’s not like we bought Batman Cereal because we preferred it to Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It was that damn box, and the damn movie connection, and those damn Batman banks that they used to come with. It was like they were selling you everything but the cereal, and it worked!
Joker Makeup Kit!
If you’ve listened to the Batman ‘89 episode of the Purple Stuff Podcast, you’ve heard me talk about dressing like the Joker. That was just one of many stories, though. I put on Joker makeup as often as I could, and usually with no justification. Sometimes I’d slather on that facepaint and just sit around in it, watching TV.
It was mostly thanks to this specific makeup kit, which I purchased *at least* three times. Though chiefly intended for use in Halloween costumes, it was in stores long before October. You had to find a can of green hairspray to complete the look, but no bother — many stores put those out early, too!
There’s me in 1989, doing Ledger’s Joker twenty years before he did.
Happy 30th anniversary to Batman. I would not be exactly me without it, and it’ll forever be the first thing I think of when “event movies” are mentioned. I’ll always treasure the summer of ‘89, when buying anything with a Batman logo was the cure for all that ailed.