26 July 2023
Looking at the Batman models produced under the Matchbox brand
Matchbox is not a brand generally associated with character toys, and particularly not superheroes, which tended to be the domain of Corgi and Ertl. The Lesney company was very reluctant to pay any form of royalties, and only in its final years did it produce some character toys aimed at the pre-school market, notably the Disney and Popeye ranges. Later owners of the Matchbox trademark, such as Universal Toys and Tyco, were more receptive to licensed characters, resulting in ranges based on properties such as Thunderbirds, Stingray, Code Red and the James Bond films.
Tyco was acquired by Mattel in 1997, creating internal competition between Matchbox and Mattel’s Hot Wheels brand. Mattel favoured its own line, and Matchbox was repositioned as a brand of diecast cars aimed at pre-schoolers, with new models being unrealistic and toy-like. Over the next few years. Mattel aggressively acquired character licenses, including DC Comics, Marvel, Star Wars, Cartoon Network, Disney, Star Trek, The Simpsons and many others.
Mattel often used its franchises across its whole range of products, and in addition to Hot Wheels vehicles, the licenses could also be applied to games, preschool toys, and action figures. However, it was something of a surprise when a new Batmobile casting appeared in the Matchbox range. Generally Mattel tended to keep the two ranges separate, with most of the ‘cool’ vehicles reserved for Hot Wheels.
Matchbox had made some DC Comics related models before, based on the TV cartoons Justice League and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. However, these were the weakest type of licensed toys, being standard models overprinted with character graphics.
Quite why this Batmobile was released into the Matchbox line, in 2012, rather than with all the others in the Hot Wheels line, is something of a mystery. It may have been an attempt to give some credibility to the neglected brand, or because it was a more ‘kid friendly’ version of the Batmobile.
As it turns out, this particular Batmobile was not based on a vehicle used by Batman in movies or comics, nor was it an original design. It was actually a scaled-down version of a large plastic car called the ‘Total Destruction Batmobile’ which was an accessory for Mattel’s ‘Power Attack Batman’ action figure range. The Power Attack toys were aimed at younger children, and this may be why the smaller diecast car was included in the Matchbox series, which was also being marketed to juveniles.
Unlike the large plastic Batmobile, which was stubby and cartoony in appearance and fitted with oversize wheels, the miniature version has realistic proportions. In fact, it is actually a very good Batmobile design, and is fitted with the typical bat-head ram at the front and large rear fins. As with many versions of the Batmobile, it has a long, powerful nose, with the cockpit mounted above the rear wheels. The forward wheels are semi-open, with the sides of the battering ram shielding the front edges. The profile of the car is tapered between the front wheels and the cockpit, with a series of five slashes on each side, echoing the car from Batman Forever.
The model is painted dark metal-flake blue, with details picked out in red. The interior is in silver-grey plastic, and includes the rear panel with a large turbine exhaust. A nice touch is the bat-shaped steering wheel in the single-seat cockpit. The blue-tinted glazing covers the whole cockpit and also incorporates the bonnet vents. The wheels are a five spoked design with a red-chrome finish.
A recoloured version was introduced in 2013. This one was painted metallic grey, a rather atypical colour for a Batmobile. The bat-head ram was painted black with red eyes, and the bonnet top as far as the cockpit was also touched in with black paint. The cockpit canopy was in transparent red plastic, while the interior and exhaust pipe were in solid red. The wheels had red spokes and the base was black plastic. Despite the unusual colour scheme, it was quite a good looking model.
Most readers would be familiar with Matchbox Sky-Busters, a range of diecast toy aircraft introduced in the 1970s. Initially, the line was composed of airliners, military planes, civil aircraft and helicopters, in fit-the-box scales at very reasonable prices. However, in the Mattel era, the Sky-Busters line degenerated into a series of generic, toy-like and unrealistic pseudo-aircraft painted in neon colours. So it was quite surprising to see a very realistic version of Batman’s flying vehicle 'The Bat' turned up in the range in 2012.
Matchbox The Bat
The flying vehicle known as ‘The Bat’ appeared in the third part of the Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Like the ‘Tumbler’ Batmobile which appeared in these films, The Bat was an un-used military prototype. It was a single seater hover-vehicle intended for urban warfare, and could take off vertically and hover in mid-air in a way similar to a Harrier jump jet. The Bat features an overhanging cockpit flanked by a pair of very powerful machine gun pods. Despite its name, the craft actually has very little resemblance to a real bat, with more of a beetle-like appearance that, when viewed from below, looks more like a turtle.
The Matchbox model of The Bat certainly stood out among the Sky-Busters, being a detailed, black-painted model in amongst the other brightly-coloured, unrealistic items. Possibly the reason for its inclusion in the range was because Hot Wheels did not produce a line of aircraft, although there were two very similar Hot Wheels versions – a small one in the Mainline series, and a larger one in the 1/50 Batman range. The Matchbox Bat is mid-way between the other two in terms of size, measuring about 8cm in length. It has a plastic underside which incorporates the cockpit interior, machine gun pods and rear fins. The upper half is diecast and incorporates the upper ‘wings’, vents and the cockpit frame. The model is painted matt black, with clear cockpit glazing. It is a very detailed model, and very faithful to the ‘real’ Bat seen in the film. There was no stand included in the packaging.
To tie in with the 2016 film Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice, a second Batman-themed Sky-Buster was issued. This one was based on the new Batwing (sometimes called the Batplane) seen in the film, which took place in a separate continuity to the Dark Knight trilogy. This was a very different type of vehicle, being an unusual winged aircraft with VTOL capabilities. The design was unique, with the wings pointing inwards and being connected, with a powerful machine gun in the centre. The wings were hinged, and capable of folding inwards to pass through narrow gaps between buildings. Unlike The Bat, with its turtle-like appearance, the Batwing did have styling cues based on a real bat. The Batwing featured prominently in the film, notably when Batman rescued Superman’s mother, but ended up being destroyed by the brutal Doomsday.
On first impression, the Matchbox Sky-Buster version of the Batwing appears to be an impressive model. It is quite large, accurately shaped and well detailed. However, what lets it down is the large amount of plastic used in its manufacture. Only the upper fuselage is diecast, which is a fairly narrow piece. Everything else is plastic, including the base, entire wing section and the chunky rear engines. There is no glazing, and the cockpit windows are solid. It is fitted with wheels – a tricycle landing gear arrangement with plastic axles and wheels. The diecast upper body is painted matt black, the rest is self-coloured plastic that is a glossier finish.
While these models are not widely known, and were not greatly publicised, they would make interesting additions to any collection of Batman vehicles.