One of the nice things about being the internet's Foremost Batmanologist is that over the years, I've built up a network of readers who keep their eyes out for stuff they think I need to see. It's not a perfect system -- I think I got the trailer for Machine Girl, the Japanese picture about a schoolgirl who has her arm replaced with a Gatling gun so that she can go on a roaring rampage of revenge, about thirty times after it first hit the web -- but sometimes, it pays off big.

That's the case today, when reader Dave W. sent me a truly amazing discovery: A series of unused concept designs from for a line of Kenner "Anti-Heroes" action figures, featuring grimmer versions of five DC super-heroes:

No, my friends, your eyes do not deceive you: we almost had an action figure Post-Apocalyptic Road Warrior Batman. And believe it or not, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

According to the Roman numerals across the top, these designs date from 1985, which means that if they had come out, they likely would've shared shelf-space with Kenner's well-remembered Super Powers line. But while those were pretty basic takes on the members of the Justice League and their enemies -- albeit with the finest Power Action Bat Punch features that squeeze-the-legs-together technology could bring you -- the unused designs hint at plans for evil yet highly accessorized takes on the same characters.

Specifically, the villainous versions are broken up into three different design schemes: Hi-Tech, Road Warrior and Robotic, which basically ensures that no matter how crazy they might seem looking back, kids would have absolutely loved them. I mean seriously, just look at these guys:

First up, we have Hi-Tech Batman, who looks like someone hit the "Random" button in HeroMachine and called it a day. If the dates on the designs are correct, this thing is seriously ahead of its time. Cybernetic arms that end in knuckle spikes, a Moon Knight-style hood that ends up looking more like a bunny rabbit than a bat, a fanged skull kicking it on the chest logo and -- if that wasn't enough to tip you off that these was an Anti-Hero version of Batman -- two gigantic handguns, which according to an overlay are "nickle-plated" Smith & Wesson .44 magnums.

Basically, it's a 100% accurate prediction of what every comic would look like in the '90s four years before they actually happened.

Next we have Road Warrior Batman, and there is nothing about this guy that is not absolutely amazing, not the least of which being that he's an utterly shameless riff on the bad guys from -- as the name implies -- The Road Warrior. Specifically, he's rocking the Humungus's signature hockey mask and Wez's... well, everything else, probably because just straight up making an action figure of Batman in a studded leather bondage harness was probably pushing it a little too far.

There is, however, one important addition: KNIFE EARS. Road Warrior Batman has knives for ears. It's incredible, because if you got a 9 year-old who loved Batman, hopped him up on Pixie Stix and Kool-Aid, and sat him down in front of HBO in the early '80s for a few hours and then asked him to draw the most badass version of Batman he could think of, I can guarantee you that is exactly what he would come up with. Trust me, I basically just described my childhood.

And for our last redesign of the Dark Knight, we have Robotic Batman, and how Warner Brothers didn't rush that concept to theaters when they had it 3 years before RoboCop, the world may never know.

Either way, he's the most disturbing of all the Anti-Hero Batmen, Thanks to a strange combination of logos that makes it look like the ginormous skull he has for a belt buckle has a tongue that's pointing directly to a pair of uncomfortably overdeveloped thigh muscles. And if you didn't see that before, congratulations: You do now.

Batman's not the only super-hero to be redesigned, though. Apparently these concepts were going to be the foundation for an entire line of figures, starting with Superman:

In another example of how weirdly predictive these designs are, Hi-Tech Superman actually looks a lot like the design fans would be seeing a decade later when the Eradicator started showing up during the Death of Superman storyline.

Also, it's worth noting that whoever designed these things was presented with a very tricky problem and came up with a pretty solid answer: How do you make a "hi-tech" version of a guy who can already fly at the speed of light, see through walls and shoot laser beams out of his eyes? You give him a stick.

Road Warrior Superman, however, got slightly more creative with his weaponry, but let's be honest: the morningstar he's swinging is the last thing you're going to notice about this redesign. As for the first, that's probably a tossup between the clothing -- which appears to be a pair of scale mail pants held together by shoelaces and the rareOnly-One-Sleeve type of shirt that's usually only seen in gladiator movies -- and the tattoos.

Apparently the superman who cruises around the desert looking for guzalayne gasoline for his Justice Jogger was able to come up with a kryptonite tattoo needle, and decided to ink not only his own logo, but also the bitchin' skull and crossbones that's peaking out from underneath one of Judge Dredd's shoulderpads. And just when you've finally come to terms with that, you notice the roguish (and Rogue-ish) skunk stripe in his hair, and then we're right back where we started.

Looks like the dark future of the Road Warrior is also lacking in hair care products.

Okay everybody, I'm just going to put this out there: In designing a robotic version of Wonder Woman, the artist who drew these basically created a super-dominatrix. Really, I know it's a tired joke, but just look at her. It might just be ten years of constant internet use that makes the "shininess" of her robot legs look less like metal and more like thigh-high vinyl, and you could say that I'm reading a little too much into the pouty lips and heavily shadowed eyes, but the rope coiled around her arm that ends in an electrified cat o' nine tails?! It can't just be me, right? Right.

It's actually a pretty impressive achievement to make something that's even more fetished-up than Wonder Woman already was, and that's without even getting into the neon stars.

In addition to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman -- the Big Three of DC marketing -- the designs also included a few second-tier characters like Cyborg of the Teen Titans, who is seen here as a robot.

I'll run through that one more time, just so we're clear on this. This is a robot version of Cyborg. That's Cyborg, whose entire deal is that he's half-human and half robot. Yeah. Presumably in this version, the robotic parts are all still robotic, while the human parts are also robotic.

Along the same lines is the "Hi-Tech" version of Cyborg, which just looks like the regular version but with some Rubik's Cube-looking buttons on his chest. The '80s had some weird ideas of what computers were all about, folks.

Finally, we have a set of designs for perennial third-stringer Firestorm, which somehow manages to be even better than Road Warrior Batman. I mean, the fact that someone, anyone, at any time thought that a toy of Firestorm in a post-apocalyptic Road Warrior universe was something that should exist is amazing on its own.

As to the figure itself, I barely even know where to begin. First off, there's the fact that Firestorm's flaming hair has been expanded to now include eyebrows made of fire. Then there's the Firestorm logo leather jacket, which, if it actually existed, I know two dudes who would be getting out their wallets before they even knew the price. Admittedly, they might be the only two guys who bought it, but still.

Finally, and most importantly, is the figure's weapon, which is A GLOWING RADIOACTIVE PIPE WRENCH. This is without question the greatest design for a toy that I have ever seen in my life.

These aren't the only designs, though. Click each image below for a look at the larger versions, including a post-apocalyptic version of Robin, the Boy Road Warrior, who looks like he's heading off to go help the Baseball Furies take down the Warriors:

And if you'd like to buy this strange little piece of history -- and who wouldn't? -- get out your checkbook: these pieces are going to be auctioned off starting this Friday, and personally, I can't wait to see the market value of Firestorm's Kirby Krackle pipe wrench.

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