1986 BATS

My friends and I lost our shit when the series five GI Joes showed up at the Bay in Fort Smith, NWT, around May 1986. I don’t remember having a great fondness for Cobra’s Battle Android Trooper though. There were probably six or eight figures from that series, and a couple stragglers from 1985, that I wanted more than BATS.

When my best friend, Donny, claimed BATS first, precluding me from getting one because I avoided buying the same figures as my buddies, I wasn’t too disappointed. I preferred my GI Joes and Cobras to be more military and less science fiction. But BATS became a figure I appreciated when Donny’s figure transferred into my GI Joe collection a year later, during a trade of his GI Joes for my Transformers.

36-back Canadian card from 1986.

I think of Maximillian from The Black Hole and the Terminator from The Terminator as prototypes for unconscionable and unstoppable killing machines. BATS was GI Joe’s version, especially when first introduced in the comic book (GI Joe #44), attacking Lady Jaye and a bunch of green Joe recruits. But BATS units were rarely menacing, and their most serious treatment came in the second series of comics, published by Devil’s Due 16 years after its original introduction. Those issues, GI Joe: A Real American Hero #12-13, were reminiscent of the X-Men battling Nimrod in Uncanny X-Men #209, however it felt disingenuous being expected to consider a single BATS unit as extremely dangerous, since they were so frequently treated as comic relief and simple cannon fodder in the original Marvel series.

In the cartoons, there was never a sense of menace either, since Sgt. Slaughter took down a whole squadron of BATS with his bare hands at the start of season 2. But in many ways, BATS were a perfect escape route for the cartoon in that they could be shot and destroyed, and that could substitute for death in a kids show where regulations wouldn’t allow anyone to be killed.

No longer canon.

After receiving Donny’s figures via trade, I considered BATS as being harder to kill than most Cobras, but not unstoppable, always forcing the Joes to use shrewd battle tactics and strategy. Lacking a squadron – as with the Crimson Guard, Eels, Snow Serpent and Viper, I only had one BATS figure – I used mine to even Cobra’s odds vs. the Joes. By then I had increased my Cobra operatives significantly, but my Joes still outnumbered them, 2-to-1.

My BATS unit could tie up and disable key Joes, and turn the battle into more of a fair fight. So my appreciation of BATS grew once I owned one.

I never liked its pointy head or sunken chest, but it is surprisingly satisfying swapping its hand attachments to bring a new element to the battle. And the look and feel of the BATS figure was among the best in the whole line.

BATS’ various hand attachments and backpack.

Although Hasbro continued to push strong Joe figures well past my departure from collecting a few years later, 1986 was the start of a downward trajectory in quality of Joe and Cobra vehicles, and Cobra figures.

Monkeywrench had a decent sculpt but a single, shitty weapon, a downgrade from earlier Dreadnoks. Zarana was a strong foil for Baroness, but Zandar was forgettable and redundant. And Dr. Mindbender received a passing grade from his characterization in the comic and cartoon, even though he wore the most ridiculous outfit of any scientist, before or since. But Viper and BATS were solid troops, and that was more than I can say for the crew of Cobras that arrived on cardbacks in 1987.

Canadian full card and US Mint-on-Card (MOC).
BATS Canadian filecard.

As an adult, BATS have taken a prominent role in my collection.

I have a dozen complete 1986 BATS, one v2 BATS, another dozen versions from Red Laser Army, and even an OG US MOC BATS. The artwork is memorable but seems kitschy now, not up to Hector Garrido’s usual quality. (I say this, even as I have the utmost respect for his work!) Something about the legs is cartoonish, its right arm is comically short, its left arm doesn’t bend quite right, and the painting of its head seems unfinished.

Regardless of BATS many flaws in execution – in its comic and cartoon appearances, and even in its card art – the figure is a classic that I appreciate now more than I ever have.

7 replies on “1986 BATS”

The Bat artwork still retains traces of them, originally, being cyborgs. But, that would have spoiled their ability to be destroyed on after school tv.

As a kid, I took the one line from their filecard about bursting into flame when hit from behind. The first time the Joes faced them, they suffered. But, they then found the weakness and after that, Bats were just junk to litter the battlefield and maybe take out green recruits. They had little other value.

Oddly, I love the 1991 Bat. But, really despise the 1986. I remember some kids in a Target aisle in 1986 talking about how awesome the Bat was and wondering what the heck they were looking at. Pretty much every other 1986 figure was way better. But, at $100 each these days, I guess I’m in the minority on not really liking this figure.

When I re-read the filecard recently, I was surprised how undersold those BATS figures were, with a subtle reference to the Ford Pinto in there for comedic value. Taking the words at face value, like you did creates issues… He was intending that BATS bring chaos to the battlefield, but some of the details came closer to making the figure useless. It was like playing a video game and getting to the bad guy at the end who is super easy to kill, once you know the secret strategy. That intelligence would have been disseminated across the Joes quickly and the only struggle would have been how best to flank them.

Sometimes I feel ridiculous in what I missed growing up, how my childhood suspension of disbelief still influences how I view GI Joes and Cobras today. It makes sense that BATS would be cyborgs, though it wasn’t obvious until this moment. If I was building an unstoppable robot I wouldn’t put two legs on it and force it to walk, I’d instead give it tracks so it could cross any terrain. I learn new perspective about these figures everyday, and I appreciate that. Thank you, Mike.

“Despise” would be too strong to describe what I felt for them at first. For me it was more “disinterest”. Like you, I didn’t understand the hype. It changed over time – as I said, once I acquired my first – to appreciation for the potential they represented to even the battle.

BATS was fun to use once I owned the figure as a kid. But as much as I like it more now, I think the market value is disproportionate to its utility. Obviously the price of troops often outstrips their value, but $100/each is disgusting. I used to think I would never pay more than $25 or $30 per troop.

I liked BATS. Big BATS and I cannot lie….gonna buy the Super7 big guy…no I’m not. I dislike Super 7.

I first saw them and Viper on the tv ad for the Battle Stations and wondered what they were all about. When I found them in stores, I got two, because I wanted more Cobras.

Dr. Mindbender wasn’t intended to be a mad scientist but a torturer. Larry Hama, fearing more controversy after the Zartan’s file card ticked of mental health people, talked Hasbro into downplaying the interrogator aspects of Mindy.

It’s funny left to their own devices, Hasbro might’ve had a bustier Baroness, an out right torturer and maybe some crude ethnic stereotypes (there was an Asian caricature “spider handler” was sketched up and some sort of Mongolian desert bandit called Ra Beef or something…sure Hama would’ve loved those guys). Oh, and Duke would’ve been a Colonel. But if the Joe design team had their way, more female characters! (Hasbro bean counters said they sold poorly, and the suits shot the ladies down after 1987)

That’s all really good insight. Thanks! It’s too bad they didn’t have more female figures throughout the line. If they were all the quality of Baroness and Lady Jaye, and the characters were well written in the comic, I would have been interested. That said, the only 87 Joes I didn’t buy as a kid were Gung-Ho and Jinx so, unfortunately, there seemed to be some level of truth to what the numbers were telling them.

I think Hama did a decent job to steer them away from stereotypes and caricatures. What they originally proposed for Roadblock’s name was another example.

Mindbender would have been a great interrogator – don’t remember whether I used him that way. It was such a common scene to play out, having the main hero tortured and interrogated, holding out against inhuman pain, just like in so many 80s movies. Hama was even using it in the comic whenever he whipped out the ol’ brainwave scanner.

I’ve only had a few Super 7 figures – none are actually open – and I’ve been pretty impressed, at least by the way they look. That said, I have no interest in a giant BATS unit. Apart from the some bigger Transformers, 6 inch is the largest scale I’ve gone so far in any of my toy purchases.

The B.A.T. is a figure I never liked, but it was mainly because of mine having the misfortune of his backpack full of hand attachments being lost almost immediately. He wound up stuck with a claw hand and nothing else.

For some reason the B.A.T. not having a face bothered me. Guys wearing masks and helmets and such were fine, but this robot with out a face seemed too much, for some reason it made me decide the B.A.T. was COBRA Commander’s robot butler, and I imagined he just sassed the Commander, like George Jetson’s robot maid. Thinking back, that’s really weird.

That is an amazing visual! Thank you for that.

Yeah, my issues were just the level of science fiction seemed excessive and certain elements of the mold – much like you with the face – just struck me as off. There was definitely a time in my childhood when Hasbro could do little wrong. I even remember begging my dad to buy me the Renegades when I saw them hanging in a tiny toy section in some rinky dink pharmacy in Nova Scotia, so my standards were incredibly low. I had such a bloated view of how many figures fit into the upper echelon and although BATS was an important figure, it didn’t excite me.

BATS were a perfect fit for me, loving both Cobra and robots. I was just getting into Joe when this wave of figures hit, and I remember finding TONS of them on an endcap at Walmart. I couldn’t get them all, but I knpw I got Zandar, Zarana, Mindbender and, of course, the BAT. Its a bit embarrassing, but I was enthralled by the lenticular chest. I was also impressed with the arm attachments. I’ve been building my BAT army back up over the past year but, as has been noted, they are extremely expensive now.

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