Truetorial: A Brief History
of DCUC Case Assortments

While we’re waiting on the fate of the subscription, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at the upcoming case assortments for DC Universe Classics Wave 20. Mattel mentioned that the new DC line would offer them some flexibility and DCUC20 might just be a window into their intentions.

We don’t talk a lot about case assortments here at IAT. The information isn’t contained in our checklists and we don’t really mention it in the reviews either. That’s largely because it hasn’t really been very important to the line. There are (usually) clear gaps in time between the waves and with the exception of a flirtation with “Best of” cases here and there, Mattel doesn’t tend to mix things up too much. At least not yet, Wave 20 is shaping up to be a little different from what we’re used to.

Before I jump into that Wave 20 model, I wanted to do a quick rundown of how the case assortments have been handled over the last couple years. I think it will help if we all know where we’ve been. In 2008, cases for DCUC Waves 1-6 each contained all the figures in the wave (with the exception of the variants which were substituted in specific ratios). There were multiple case assortments, but the only changes involved switching which figure was doubled up. To the right is a graphic showing the two case assortments for Wave 6.

The first two columns contain the assortment as it originally shipped and the first revision case. As you can see, you could build Kalibak with one successful visit to your favorite retailer. The third column is something I’m currently calling “CoE”. It stands for “Case of Each”, it’s a theoretical number that shows how many of each character a store would receive if they had one case of each assortment. Since each figure brings its own level of demand and because there’s no equality in case assortments (one case could be way overproduced while another is underproduced) it’s not always a reliable indicator for pegwarmers or rarity, but, as you’ll see, there is still some correlation between a figure’s CoE score and how difficult they were to find.

The second year, Mattel added All-Star figures to the cases and split the new figures up across two assortments. To the left is a chart for Wave 7, which was most notable for giving us the eternal pegwarmer, Captain Cold. As you can see, both Flash & Captain Cold have a CoE of 3 making them the most plentiful figures from this wave. Flash is an A-list character and sold through with no difficulty, but Captain Cold (obviously) didn’t fare as well. In addition to him being a “3” in Wave 7 caes, Captain Cold was included in “Best of Wave One” which raised his “CoE” number to four in the first half of 2009. With that in mind, it’s little wonder he was a nationwide pegwarmer.

While Wave Seven’s split cases ended up giving DC pegs a cold chill well into 2010, Wave 8 didn’t do collectors any favors either. The chart below shows the breakdowns for Wave 8. I dropped the All-Stars to make it easier to read and added the Wave 8 figures that were included in “Best of Wave 3” and “Best of Wave 4”. Looking at those CoE numbers, you might guess some folks had trouble finding Gentlemen Ghost…

Now, at this point you might be asking how does Captain Cold being a “4” makes him a pegwarmer while Gentlemen Ghost being a “2” makes him rare. The first thing to keep in mind is that the CoE number is difficult to use when comparing two separate waves. Cold was a pegwarmer because he ended up being a 3 when most of the figures from his wave were 2s. Similarly, Gentlemen Ghost was a 2 in a wave of 3s and 4s. The impact of the CoE score is also better illustrated with larger numbers – let’s say that each of the case assortments that contained Wave 8 figures was produced 10,000 times. For Wave 8, that would mean there were 40,000 Parademons and 40,000 Dr. Fates, but only 20,000 Gentlemen Ghosts. The CoE numbers may be small, but they have a large impact. And, as I mentioned above, a low CoE score can be overcome by other factors. Demand could be similarly low (when a low CoE would make sense) or the case containing the low CoE figure could be ordered in greater quantities than the other cases, balancing things out. Though, if Wave 8A had been produced in higher quantities Gentlemen Ghost’s wider availability would’ve also resulted in a veritable glut of Parademons and Dr. Fates.

Anyway, the split case model continued through the rest of 2009 and 2010 (with the exception of the two solid case Wal-Mart waves), but things changed again in 2011. This year saw the return of solid cases and the number of figures per case drop to eight. Wave 16 still shipped in two assortments, but only the All-Stars changed and either case could complete Bane. Wave 18 had no All-Stars, instead opting to double up on different figures in each assortment. I haven’t seen a second case listing for Wave 19 yet, but I’m guessing it will ship similarly.

So what does our experience with DCUC case assortments the last few years teach us? That while a case containing all the figures is better for collectors than not, split cases are still manageable as long as the figures are produced in a balanced fashion across the assortment. That there shouldn’t be too much variance in the CoE. This brings us to Wave 20.

According to BBTS, Wave 20 is currently scheduled to ship with four separate assortments. There are seven figures in the wave with an All-Star Hal (release no. 12, joy) rounding out the eight-figure cases. If the current plan goes unchanged, three of the four assortments will double up on a particular franchise (GL, Flash, GA) while the fourth case will be packed one each and be the only one that can complete Nekron.

A quick glance at the chart above shows that the case assortments for Wave 20 aren’t very well balanced. If a retailer orders heavy, the Flash and GL figures could add up quickly and unless some retailers order big on Assortments B or C, Hawk & Dove could become shortpacked rather easily. Frankly, this particular breakdown makes me scratch my head a bit. I’m almost hoping there’s a fifth case scheduled somewhere that doubles up on Hawk & Dove and gets their CoEs back in line or that Mattel is somehow correct in their assessment that Hawk & Dove will be outsold by White Lantern Flash 2.5-to-1. Flash is an A-list character, but that seems like a real gamble, doesn’t it?

So what does the future hold? Will the rebranded line see case assortments similar to the ones for Wave 20? Honestly, I hope so. I know that we have a lot of reasons for concern – this strange breakdown we have for Wave 20, the half-Superman cases from the DC Superheroes days, or Mattel’s complete inability to fix the Gentlemen Ghost situation (though later comments have made it sound like he got stuck between Joker keeping his mold warm and contractual issues about releaseing Giganta pieces – the latter issue dissolves with the removal of C&Cs, at least).

And I guess that’s the rub. If we are going back to a model similar to DCSH or the method Hasbro uses for Marvel (and scanning some MU pegs reveals how carefully the CoE’s must be monitored, that line is prone to certain figures piling up), Mattel must be prepared to pay even closer attention to the case assortments and retailer orders than they needed to for DCUC. They’ll have to better balance the figures by measuring demand and, should a figure end up shortpacked (either due to retail orders or poor planning), they must be ready to find a place to slot him back in quickly to keep us engaged in the line without Collect & Connect pieces.

43 thoughts on “Truetorial: A Brief History
of DCUC Case Assortments

    1. Thanks! They very well may not be, but having the C&C pieces and only being in two cases seems counter-intuitive. Even if demand for those two is lower, Nekron makes them a little more important.

        1. i took NO chances… since hawk and dove are the only figures i want from this wave i preordered from BBTS as soon i was able too…

          also have the hawk and dove dc direct figures on order too…

          so they are important to me…. 🙂

          btw anyone gonna need some nekron pieces?

  1. Fascinating stuff! The margin for error on the case assortments seems really small. One less Captain Cold in an assortment and he’s not pegwarmer?? Geez!

    1. Thanks! The Best Of cases never seemed to do much good for the health of the line, but the retailers would’ve wanted them anyway and they’re case assortments of no new tooling for Mattel, so they sound like they’d be good for business. But Cold seemed to like up from his regular wave even before he was placed in the Best Of case.

    2. Its a very delicate balance. What are the most “in demand” figures versus the obscure ones that only a certain number of people will want… but then you can have an “obscure” character that is also “in demand”.

      They must have to make some sort of projection as far as how many people will buy the entire wave versus cherry pick, etc.

      1. I always wonder how much time they really spend on metrics, what resources and data they really have, how trained they are to make sense of it, etc.

  2. Gentleman Ghost and Dr Impossible both had CoEs of 2, which I think in and of itself shows how careful you have to be overemphasizing it as a measure of “findability” (or was my area the only one that had Targets with nothing but a dozen Dr Impossibles on the pegs two years later?), but the number of Iron Man variants on MU pegs everywhere (but I can only find classic, modern, Extremis and Bleeding Edge…if only he also had his own entire figure line!) certainly makes a good case for making sure incomplete sellthrough in one series isn’t compounded by incomplete sellthrough on the next.

    1. In this condensed version, it doesn’t work as well in-between waves (Doc Impossible was in two Best Of assortments, so he’s a 4 on the year).

      That said, it’s about the score relative to the other figures in the case than it is the value of the number itself. Sometimes being a “2” is good, like when a case is mostly twos or threes, and sometimes it’s bad, like when there’s 4s & 5s.

  3. Amazing research, it’s the kind of thing I used to do and I love it.

    There’s a potential flaw in the logic however. It seems your research is all based on the ‘comic shop’ model which is predicated on the need for fast turns and selling through within a month.

    General retail WANTS to work that way but the infrastructure really isn’t set up for that. When a chain sets a SKU/SKN for a product line waiting for a revision wave becomes useless. Wave A, B, C? It’s all the same to the stockkeeping system (even tho the potential to break that all out IS there). The cases were ordered back in Jan. or Feb., they ship when they ship, and only selling through triggers shipping another case from the distro so even tho ‘first in first out’ is supposed to be practiced it’s most likely that after wave A sells out it’ll be Wave D that refills the pegs. Then when that dogs out you’ll see cases of Wave B show up at Big Lots and the like.

    Toy Retail is really messed up. Much of the business is stuck in 1960s thinking with NEW HOT RAD concepts pasted on top of it. It’s a monster that has been killing itself for at least 20 years.

    1. Thanks!

      The reason I like the CoE score is because it shows what would happen in an ideal environment, when case assortments are bought and sold equally. Now, we know that’s not going to happen, but if we see a problem in CoE, then we either have to hope that crazy retail ordering will fortuitously correct it or seriously exacerbate it. Basically, this is looking for an issue before the cases go out the door. Mattel really has little to no control over what will happen at retail other than assigning these CoE scores.

      Your description of what happens with the more frequent changes between case assortments is spot-on. I’m fairly certain I’ll be putting Nekron together from different store chains altogether unless one hits on the full case when they place their order.

  4. Having collected DCUC from Wave 1 to Wave 14 (minus the imaginary wave 5) I can only recall having picked one entire wave up in store at the same time. I want to say that was wave 6.

    When comparing toy aisle in department stores and the ‘comic shop’ it’s like a race between the tortoise and the hare. Comic shops depend on product moving quickly, they can’t afford to have their shelves clogged, both for space and the fact that it ties up funds.

    Department stores are based on the Mr. Potato Head factor. Every time you go to a store there will always be Mr. Potato Head whether its winter, spring, summer or fall. While Mr. Potato Head is a classic child’s toy, its not like he’s in high demand, but action figures it’s a little different because they ARE in demand and they just can’t keep up with it seems. Mr. Potato Heads will always sell and it doesn’t matter whether it takes them five days five weeks or five months,. Whereas if a dept. store gets in a stale case of DCUC that just ends up clogging shelves it won’t go anywhere, and while the store doesn’t care because they’ve got full shelves and it doesn’t matter whether they sell out now or by Christmas, us collectors who are going in looking for the latest wave get screwed…

    Plus the fact that I department stores primarily keep the toy section around for Christmas sales. From Black Friday to January 1st they make their main bread and butter. Sure there is Easter and kids have birthdays all the time, but otherwise its just keeping the shelves warm until the next holiday season…

    1. I think the only waves that we had trouble on were 5 (who didn’t), 9, and 15. For those last two, it was finding the second case for wave nine and the figures from wave 15 that weren’t in the TRU best of case.

      Great analogy with Mr. Potato Head! I think I have to officially adopt the “Mr. Potato Head Factor” when I talk about this in the future. LOL

      Our Target spent all of 2010 hanging on to the “Best of 3” and “Best of 2” figures, so I have a particular crankiness about those case assortments. Y’know, one thing that didn’t make it into the article, that Mr. Potato Head has me thinking about, is that if DC Comics just had a higher notoriety and could move through secondary characters like MU does, things would’ve never gotten to this point.

      1. Wave 5… I didn’t! :^P I was lucky with a good Walmart and able to help out quite a few others and get a second set for my MoC collection (that ended at Wave 10). Same with Wave 10, but it finally backfired on Wave 14; we are STILL overflowing with them and probably missed the DC end cap because of it.

        Now Wave 8, that was tough! I might have seen them all at retail once and not at the same time. I was glad I ordered them on-line.

        In my parts, Best Of cases seemed to work the best when it was the big guns — Batman, Superman, GL and Flash. The Joker and all-black Batman were the best sellers from the WM Wave 10 too. Once they added characters not from that group, there were problems.

  5. I’m glad you brought up Marvel Universe at the end. I don’t collect it, but I have kept an eye on what figures I see in stores since it started and there are definitely issues with the assortments. Neither Hasbro or Mattel can get it right. There are some MU figures that glut the pegs while there are others that I’ve only ever seen in reviews and never once seen in a store, which is more surprising than DCUC because my local Targets do get in MU regularly rather than having the same Black Canaries for two years.

    And since DCUC (or whatever it’ll be called) will become more like MU in 2012, I’m worried we’ll see the same problems and prices spike online for harder to find figures.

    1. I have a lot more trouble finding MUs than anything from DC ironically. I sit here in my little corner of the Midwest and see folks complaining all the time about Mattel’s distribution and how they wish it was more like Hasbro’s. Meanwhile, I’ve got a long list of Hasbro stuff I never found and a complete set of DCUCs with little to no effort.

      I think Mattel is in a pickle on their case assortments. Retailers may want more Superman and Batman, but they have to have learned their lesson by now about sending out cases that are heavily unbalanced… at least I hope so.

  6. Cool article! I would just like to say that as a corollary to that “Mr. Potato Head” theory is that certain characters, particularly Superman and Batman are like that for DC lines, just like Spiderman, Iron Man, Hulk and Wolverine are like that for Marvel, or Snake Eyes, Cobra Commander and Duke for G.I.Joe. They’re recognizable enough that they will sell most of the time. Especially if they’re well made.

    DC’s biggest problem is that they haven’t had anyone like Iron Man emerge that could carry them when Superman or Batman are unavailable. This is why DC and Warner Bros. need to develop movies and cartoons for characters that aren’t connected to Superman or Batman.

    1. You have an excellent point and it’s one I wish I talked about more. The single biggest problem Mattel faces every day is something completely out of their control: DC’s brand recognition just isn’t up to par on beyond a handful of characters.

      That’s no commentary on how Mattel has handled things, but everything would be so much easier for them and us if DC had the same level of recognition as Marvel does.

      1. Well, DC DOES have that, but not in the mainstream.

        And I might argue that it’s a Möbius strip. Hulk is ‘popular’ because there’s been promotion of Hulk, look where Fantastic Four has gone. I mean, Gone.

        Promotion is promotion.

        Part of the big problem with both DC and Marvel is how messed up the various licenses are combined with what purpose is desired. I can’t stop laughing at the happy, joyful, kiddified Joker, Two-Face and Penguin toys while just an aisle over there’s Murder Lots movie Joker and sex-machine Joker with Harley Quinn.

        (BTW, did everyone already know that Fischer-Price has re-introduced the concept of Dino Riders into their dinosaur toy line? Because I didn’t and I kinda want them.)

        Sadly, DC’s “Big Move” (see what I did there? Kirby-style!) isn’t going to help any of this. 🙂

  7. Really minor typo:

    “If the current plan goes unchanged, three of the four assortments will double up on a particular franchise (GL, Flash, GA) while the fourth case will be packed one each and be the only one that can complete Nekron”

    I believe you mean third.

  8. A little late here, and someone may have mentioned this, but THE biggest factor for Captain Cold being a peg warmer was the split case and the fact that Flash was selling through so quickly. Wave 7 was pretty early in the line and people were dying for a Flash. Plus he looked great in the package, with the wind put into the plastic which probably led to a few extra sales to keep him MOC. Not to mention that wave 1 Bats and wave 3 Green Lantern had some pretty big problems so those All-Star figures were selling through quickly as well. All of this retailers kept ordering that 7A case and kept selling 3 Flash figures…and maybe 1 Cold. So eventually, after 3 cases for example, you were left with no Flash, no Batman, no GL, maybe 1 or 2 each of Barda and Kid Flash, and 6 or 7 Captain Cold figures. It was a disaster to pack him more than 1 per case. And I guess his “midgetness” didn’t help him either haha.

    1. Case in point, right there. And then Mattel felt the need to stick him in two more additional cases. It’s funny because we know they weren’t planning to bog shelves down with him, but you wonder what they were intending by packing him so frequently (and not giving him a SF Blue repaint – I would’ve bought two!)

  9. no one mentioned power girl?

    do not know about where you live but powergirls was literally the only figure walmart had for MONTHS…between the walmart excclusive then the allstar version with no c&c

    1. I can probably still find Wave 10 Power Girl, Forager and maybe even Robot Man at a couple of Walmarts. Forager was almost as bad as Power Girl around here.

      1. same here, we had PG in such numbers you’d have thought she was a wave unto herself. sadly, if i’d ever seen her clearanced at a good price, i’d picked up a few for customs, but i never saw her less than 10 bucks… and w/out the CnC bit, she was just not worth the price.

    2. I saw 22 Power Girls at a Walmart once. It was crazy and I have no idea what they did with all of them.

      1. After seriously underordering Wave 5, they went overboard on 10 and 14. There’s a Walmart down in Springdale that has about 20 pegs and two shelves full of Wave14 right now.

    3. I was running long, so I cut out some of the wave assortments. 🙂

      Power Girl has a similar situation as Captain Cold. In her original assortment she was doubled up (as were the much more sensible Batman & Joker), which didn’t help. But I’d also venture to say that Walmart over did it with that wave since Beast Boy, Robotman, & Forager are still mixed in here and there among that sea of Power Girls.

      She did get a spot in a mix case later on as well, but that one actually seemed to sell better or was produced more reasonably. She was in a different flying pose and I never really saw that one pile up anywhere.

  10. and everyone wants to question why the dc sub wasn’t a smashing success.

    it’s utterly idiotic, flip-the-fans-off level bullshit like this that keeps people being rightfully pessimistic regarding anything mattel says or does. how does the case assortment for wave 20 help ANYONE?! and this is assuming ANY retailers get this wave in!

    complete stupidity.

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