Right, Robin! We Have to Wake our Friend!

By | Wednesday, February 05, 2020 Leave a Comment
Batman talking alarm clock
Back in 1974, the Janex Corporation made a series of licensed (I think) alarm clocks that featured popular characters like Bugs Bunny, Raggedy Ann, and Batman. But more than just including bas-relief images of the characters, the alarm would actually include their voices telling you to wake up! Here's a video of the clock in action...
I vaguely remember having one of these as a kid, but I never remember the audio working. Judging by... well, pretty much everything about it, I suspect it just wasn't produced very well and died a quick death.

What should be immediately obvious on even the most cursory inspection is that it's not a very good rendition of Batman, with generally poor sculpting and an even worse paint job. The Robin figure and Batmobile are even worse. There's clearly a heavy influence from the "New Look" Batman of the 1960s, despite the character getting a more realistic style from the likes of Neal Adams and Jim Aparo just as the calendar was flipping into the 1970s.

In fact, the existence of the clock at is somewhat curious. The Batman craze that accompanied the Adam West TV show had died down and, while the Super Friends cartoon did debut in late 1973, it only lasted 16 episodes before getting canceled until 1977. The Filmation cartoons also were over and done before the 1960s were out. So why, in 1974, Janex opted to license Batman is something of a mystery to me; I don't see any obvious marketing tie-in possibilities.

The other thing worth noting is that the voices recorded here are clearly not any of the actors who'd portrayed the dynamic duo in the past. Listening to some of the other Janex talking clocks, it's obvious they just got whoever sort of kind of maybe sounded a little bit like the characters. After all, the recording technology for this was crap, so you could barely understand them in the first place!

Speaking of the technology, what was the tech used here? Believe it or not, it was literally a record...
Batman alarm clock interior
You can see in the above photo that inside the clock housing, there was a small disc, about 3" in diameter upon which the audio was recorded, just like a traditional record. The alarm function activated a small motor to spin the record with a needle more-or-less permanently attached. That led to a really cheap/crappy speaker to amplify the sound, and the whole shebang was housed in the plastic housing with no venting to either let the sound or any heat generated by the motor out. Which is probably why the motors frequently burnt out, and no longer played the record. (And, by the way, the background noise you hear in the clip that you might assume is the Batmobile running? That's not on the recording itself, that's actually the noise of the motor whirring!)

Interestingly, Janex also managed to keep the Batman license for some time, also releasing an "executive set" (consisting of a Batman pencil sharpener, a Joker stapler, and a Batman logo perpetual calendar/pencil holder) in 1977 and a variety of electric toothbrush sets in 1974, 1977, 1993, and 1995. (From what I can tell, though, the 1990s Janex is effectively a different company. An SEC filing from them in 2000 states that they were formed in 1986 as With Design in Mind International and purchased Janex Corporation in 1993, then renamed themselves Janex International. I doubt the original Batman license from the '70s was held through those transitions all the way into the '90s. Later in the same filing, they note that "most of the Janex Division license agreements are written for a term of two years..." The name change seems to stem from a couple of the executives embezzling $1 million, and the company taking advantage of the Janex purchase to rebrand themselves. That success seemed to be limited, though, as their corporate website no longer functions at all, and the Internet Archives suggests Janex stopped using the domain around 2000/2001. Currently, there is a security systems company out of Poland called Janex, but this seems to be entirely unrelated.)

I suspect that this is far too deep into trivial ephemera for anyone to do any real research on this. Hell, what I've outlined above seems to be more research than anyone's ever done on this weird bit of licensing. But hey, now you know what kind of crap kids like me were stuck with in the '70s -- it was such a disregarded industry that this was some of the best comic related material you could get at the time! (Why people are nostalgic for this crap is beyond me, though!)
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