I remember hunting down Penguin Commandos - it took a while. Action figure magazines weren't really a thing during Batman Returns' debut - so late-era figures were things you found out about through hearsay and rumors. They didn't always show up on other figures' cardbacks, so you might get tipped off to them existing by a stock photo of a vehicle accidentally revealing it. Kenner didn't do a bang-up job actually announcing figures, so you saw it on a TV commercial or maybe at a flea market or comic shop. And if you were really lucky, at a toy store.
I loved Battle Beasts as a kid, so penguins with garish rocket launchers were right up my alley. Sure, Kenner didn't really model them after the movie - but the Batman Returns line didn't concern itself with authenticity. The Penguin was a tweaked Super Powers figure with nothing in common with Danny DeVito. Catwoman, at least, was close. The Penguin Commando figures are indeed penguins with weird mechanical stuff on them, but it owes everything to Kenner's 1990s-style imagination and eschews the weird pre-WWII German expressionist film bent that Tim Burton likes to apply to his films.
The 2 1/2-inch figures seem to be original penguin sculpts with jointed feet, wings, and neck - they stand fairly nicely. The bodies seem similar with different wings and the exact same deco. The sculpted feathers and orange feet are decent, but the feel of the figures and level of detail are pure 1980s and 1990s toy cheese. You're getting two for six bucks, which was a lot of toy for the money - if you wanted penguins. You didn't, you wanted Batman. Batmen? Well, whatever you wanted, it probably wasn't these late-era army builders.
If the backpacks are recycled, I don't immediately recognize them. The yellow one has black tiger stripes, a red helmet, and articulated grey cannons. It doesn't do anything other than look menacing and/or silly. The grey one has red stripes and a blue helmet, but it does stuff. There are posts on the side to mount rockets when they aren't being fired, and the blue rockets can be fired from the spring-loaded mechanism on their backs. It's cute and deadly. It reeks of a toy from 1991. Kid toys based on R-rated movies were increasingly normal, and they toymakers went out of their way to include bright colors to ensure they were appealing to children who, most likely, would not see the movie until it was on cable or their parents rented the video.
I got two packs back in the day because I liked the idea of a penguin army and you can swap backpacks between the figures. I didn't do much with them - but I did keep them, and I pulled them out to show you. Cool, aren't they? They're also largely worthless, so if you find them on the cheap you can afford them. But as I write this, I am not yet sure when you comic shops, thrift stores, or other purveyors of old junk will re-open thanks to this particularly foul year. So let's make it a fowl year, go get yourself some penguins if you find them online or in your future journeys.
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