News of the (ideally temporary) demise of DC comic-based figures at retail has been circulating for a few days. With Young Justice canned, the DC Classics line moved almost entirely online, and DC Comics’ basic inability to market their wares, it’s not the best time to be a DC collector (again).
As a lifelong fan of DC Comics and a toy collector, I have to say that I know frustration comes with the territory. I mean, collecting is never as stress-free a hobby as it should be. It’s too easy to focus on what you don’t have. The drive to acquire can overcome the appreciation of having. It can be a slippery slope especially when you contemplate the old adage that “you can’t take it with you”. Toy collecting is even more prone to pratfalls because the quality is often not collector-minded, any number of factors can cause inadvertent rarity, lines falter and die all too easily, etc. You almost start to wonder that maybe toy collecting isn’t supposed to be fun…
If you’re like me and collect a lot of different lines, you’ve surely found that different lines carry differing levels of frustration. As a MOTU Classics subscriber, the toys (almost always) show up at my house, paid for without my direct action. It’s easy for me stay excited about that as long as the figures themselves are up to par. For Joes, the figures are almost always up to par, but repeatedly hitting up the local stores to find Firefly staring at me is the problem. Marvel figures are fun to find, but I’d never buy Daken if I didn’t need the Zola arm. Buying Ghostbusters makes me question my sanity. Glyos makes me fall in love with toys all over again, but older items are hard to come by. I enjoy all of and am sometimes frustrated by all of the lines I collect. That’s the nature of the beast.
And then there’s being a DC Collector. I’m sure there are some long-term Joe fans or TF collectors with horror stories. I know that there’s Captain Power or COPS n CROOKS fans dying for their favorite line to get a second look. So, I’m not trying to say that DC fans have it the worst. We don’t. But, of all the things I collect, it has frustrated me the most over the years. Ten years ago, when DC Comics was 67, when the modern action figure was in his mid-thirties and about to undergo a hyper-articulated overhaul, the quintessential DC toy line was still Super Powers, a line of 34 figures that had come and gone nearly twenty years prior. There have been other notable all-encompassing DC lines, but the 34 Super Powers figures constituted the best stab a toy company had made in making DC Comics toys until Mattel got a hold of the license. Basically, figures my parents gave me before Kindergarten were still some of the best examples of DC toys after I’d graduated from college. Ouch.
To their credit, Mattel changed all that twice. Yeah, they got off to a rocky start. JLU had some early cancellation scares before going on to be a fantastic animation-based line. I ended up buying more of my DCSH figures at Big Lots rather than the big retailers, but the DCUC line rose from those ashes and had a fantastic run: nearly three hundred figures, over 200 unique characters. It’s an impressive line if you were fortunate enough to put it all together.
For the first time that I can remember, Mattel actually made it an awesome time to be a DC Collector. Yes, there were some frustrations – distribution, quality control, but DC toys finally felt on par with Marvel. There was product and most of it was very good. I didn’t have to go into a store and look longingly at a healthy Marvel selection while there wasn’t a DC toy to be found. Things were going well it seemed. And then, whether you were casually collecting the DCUC line or going for all of them, you were likely shocked when things came to a screeching halt during last year’s SDCC Heroic Partnership DC/Mattel panel.
“Wave 20 will be our final wave at retail.”
To say that 2011 wasn’t a great year for DC fans in general would be an understatement. Green Lantern, the movie that was supposed to do for DC what Iron Man did for Marvel, bombed critically and financially (I used to say I was a huge Green Lantern fan, but can I still claim that when I still haven’t seen the film?). The powers that be at DC Comics quietly swept the universe we’d been reading under the rug. There was no big bang on the way out either, no thanks for all the memories. Geoff Johns simply put together a poorly written mini-series that took us to an alternate Earth and then… we just never got to come back.*
And then the toy line more or less imploded at SDCC. The quoted line above was delivered so casually that I still don’t quite think I’m hearing it right when I replay the video. “Wave 20 will be our final wave at retail”. First, there was the crying and gnashing of teeth one would expect. Then, damage control started soon after. The new line was an opportunity! They could take advantage of the DC Reboot AND give retailers what they were asking for! Classics will continue in the subscription! As I wasn’t that enthused about the New 52, I wasn’t that enthused about the retail line, but I liked the idea of a DC Subscription so I put my eggs in that basket and pushed for it to go through. And it did, and things are good on that front. Eight of the nine revealed figures are awesome and I’m not going to let that last one spoil the bunch for me. If there’s going to be any DC toy enjoyment in 2012 it will have to come from the subscription.
See, we’ve gone back to those days of staring at healthy Marvel sections (really healthy Marvel sections with movie lines and multiple scale comic-lines) while DC again has no presence in the action figure aisle. Even though I didn’t really embrace the retail line, I intended to document it. We added DCUAllStars.Com as a sister site and built a loose checklist as the first three waves were revealed. But that’s imploded too. First, the second and third waves were cancelled. Then a new first wave was solicited. DCnU Superman, DCnU Batman, and Red Robin were moved up. Larfleeze, Flashpoint Plastic Man, and the others have been (temporarily?) shuffled off to toy limbo. Then there was this:
DC Universe is going away after 2012 and there’ll be one more wave of 4. In 2013, we’ll be relaunching our 6″ with complimentary offerings on Matty and at Mass. You guys will be able to complete your collection and I hope you’ll like what we are doing. We’ve taken lessons from DC Universe and Legacy. Overall, we need to adjust to retailers, consumers and what’s selling in volumes that can be supported.
In the AFI Q&A Mattel referred to the All-Star line as a “Band-Aid”:
We have an announcement coming shortly, but due to the order cancellation, word has gotten out faster than we can get this announcement up. The All Star concept was a good idea but executed Band-Aid style. We’ve decided to hold tight until we can create the right line with the right packaging, etc.. For now, we’re going to finish up DC Universe with one last wave.
“Volumes that can be supported” is the key part to this for me. It’s why I wasted your time earlier bringing up Super Powers and the lack of non-Batman DC toys at retail for the twenty years between that line and Mattel’s offerings. I’m not going to excuse Mattel, but I have to wonder how much better off we’d be if DC could successfully market its secondary characters; if DC had been able to position itself as Marvel has. Remember, in the toy world, it’s all about units moved. If Mattel could sell more DC figures, the figures would presumably be better. I am frustrated with Mattel, but I’m really frustrated with DC Comics. DC’s inability to market itself is what has brought about the Relaunch in the comics. DC’s inability to market itself is why Mattel has been reduced to selling figures online, directly to consumers while Hasbro is pumping out two scales of comic-based merchandise for Marvel.
DC’s inability to market itself hasn’t suddenly gotten better either. And that’s where “volumes that can be supported” comes in. I don’t think that bodes well for DC toys. In 2012, JLU is ending (after a great run), Young Justice has been cancelled in both 4″ and 6″, DCU All-Stars is cancelled. Only four 6″ comic-based figures are slated for retail for the entire year. It’s okay though, Marvel and Hasbro need the room, right?
It’s not all bleak. There is the sub. This last wave of DC whatever will have Superboy Prime & Red Robin. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think the DCnU Superman and Batman look like cool toys even if I don’t care for the costumes. I hope that 2013 will be better, that Mattel can capture some of the 2009-2010 awesomeness, but the need to create a line that features characters in “volumes that can be supported” just gives me pause. If DC can’t elevate Superman and Wonder Woman to the level of Batman, if they can’t take a character like Green Lantern or Flash and elevate him to the place where Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor currently reside, then I’m not sure that “volumes that can be supported” will do much for collectors. I hope I’m wrong, but we’ll see. We just finished a great run of DC Classics. Eighteen fantastic waves and two more to boot. Let’s hope that Mattel can do it again, because I don’t think anything is going to get better at my favorite comic book company anytime soon.
All right, that’s probably a lot more blathering than was necessary, but I needed to type it all out. I feel better. If you read all of it, thank you, and I appreciate your perseverance. If you didn’t and skipped down to this strange gap between paragraphs, then right on, man. We’re on the same wavelength.
So here’s what all this means for my checklisting duties. I’ve moved that final four figure DCUC/DCUAS/whatever wave to the DCClassics.Com 2012 Page. DCUAllStars.Com is in limbo, much like the line. I’ve removed it from the site directory and the URL will now redirect to the 2012 page. Until we get a little better handle on what’s going on, that’s the setup going forward. I’ve got some other minor updates to make to the 2012 page (review links, subscription figure pictures, etc.), look for those closer to the end of the month.
After I wrote this on Tuesday, IAT got some crazy traffic numbers. So, let me kick this update off with a thankful nod to the readership. I’m always atonished and humbled that thousands of people come by and read my crazy rantings. When it’s late and I’m trying to get the next update done, you guys are what keep me going!
Anyway, after the forum links, tweets, Facebook posts, and not to mention my bud Poe Ghostal’s shout out (and Topless Robot’s shout out to him to boot), Mattel posted a Facebook update regarding the future of the DC at retail. I doubt that my Truetorial had anything to do with Mattel’s announcement, but it did make my article a little dated. Thus, time for an update. Here’s Matty’s Facebook post:
You may have heard that the time is nearing for the end of the Young Justice toy line. While we’re as bummed as you are, we want to be sure you know this doesn’t in any way mean the end of DC toys from Mattel. In fact, it’s quite the opposite!
Next month kicks off not one, but two new lines: our DC Universe Club Infinite Earths subscription service dedicated to true collector characters you won’t find at retail. The first shipment goes out in May and features an all-new 6” Golden Age The Flash figure. If you missed out on this awesome subscription, a limited quantity will also be available at MattyCollector.com on May 15th at 9am PT. Then, in late May, head to your local retailer and you’ll find The Dark Knight Rises, a kid-targeted Batman™ line. And for 2013, we’re planning an innovative collector-aimed line coming to retail stores.
Keep your eye on this spot and we’ll have more details as they’re available. Our partnership with DC is stronger than ever and we couldn’t be more excited for all the amazing new collector and kid toys to come!
It’s really only this line that matters: “And for 2013, we’re planning an innovative collector-aimed line coming to retail stores”. I had to laugh a bit because, by everything we’re told, a collector-aimed retail line being successful would require a small miracle. Still, I closed the original article out with hope that 2013 will have good things in store and 4 ‘little birdies’ have buoyed that hope. Today, the Four Horsemen pointed out on Twitter that they were currently making new DC Universe Classics style figures.
So within a day, there’s a little more to go on than where my Truetorial wrapped up. Yes, DC Collectors are still in for a long year, but if the 4H are sculpting now? Hopefully that means that we’ll see something cool at SDCC. And, after last year’s PR disaster, I think we’d all agree that Mattel needs to knock the 2012 Heroic Partnership Panel out of the park…