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A Fan’s Message to the Fans

Fwoosher Wakko gives his thoughts on DC, the sub, and the love of a property.

Way before there was DC Universe Classics, there was Mattel’s Batman line. While beautifully sculpted by the Four Horsemen, the line was obviously limited to Batman and his family and rogues, with a predictable (but understandable) emphasis on Batman repaints. How nice it would be, we thought, for a line with a wider selection of characters, fewer repaints, and more articulation.

Mattel answered with DC Super Heroes. A bigger stable of characters? OK, here’s Superman and his family and rogues. You want more articulation? Check. Fewer repaints? OK. Continued Four Horsemen sculpts? You got it. But most enticing of all was the moniker “DC Super Heroes.” Mattel clearly had aspirations for this line that their current license didn’t allow. How nice it would be, we thought, for the line to open wide into the entirety of the DC universe and perhaps take a page from Marvel Legends’ build-a-figure concept.

Again, Mattel answered with DC Universe Classics. An almost limitless stable of characters from which to choose? Absolutely. A fair mix of A, B, C and Z-listers? Sure. Representation from various teams, from top tier Justice Leaguers to the charming-but-goofy Metal Men? No problem. An overabundance of Batman and Superman figures? Nope. Implementing a Collect-and-Connect program which not only gave us oversized figures, but also encouraged even case ratios and an incentive to buy lesser-known characters? Presto. Every wave could’ve been headlined by yet another Batman and Superman; instead, waves were headlined by the likes of Flash, Martian Manhunter, Hawkgirl or no clear headliner at all. Anyone who thinks the line DIDN’T consistently cater to fans of the DC Universe is fooling themselves.

Mattel has done so many things right with DC Universe Classics for so long that it’s easy to take the line for granted. But action figure collectors are a difficult bunch, and often we let the few wrongs overshadow the oh-so-many rights. Yes, the line was peppered with problems from day one. Among the legitimate complaints were poor distribution (especially of exclusive waves) and quality control issues (hello, dusty Wave 3). Let’s not even discuss Gleek. I personally suffered the distribution problems through Wave 5, at which point I began ordering cases online. As for quality control, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a case of a loud minority over a quieter majority. Out of the 200+ figures I’ve bought, I’ve only had minor QC issues on maybe five figures.

Other collector complaints were not as legitimate. Poor character selection? Just because Mattel released Kamandi or Jemm or Apache Chief and didn’t release Huntress or Granny Goodness or Ra’s doesn’t mean they failed. Part of building the longevity of the line is holding off the bigger names (yes, at the risk of never doing them). Besides, one man’s Wally West is another man’s Samurai (I’ll go on record as saying I’d rather have the latter in my collection). Mattel deserves an A+ for character selection from Wave 1 through the 2013 sub line-up (so far), and this is coming from a near-completist who skipped Wave 17 completely. This is DC Universe Classics, folks, not Joe Collector’s Wishlist Classics.

Another frequent complaint is the reliance on existing tooling for the line. Let’s face it: the line wouldn’t exist in this economy if Mattel couldn’t reutilize parts, and spandex-clad super-bodies do tend to look a lot alike. For me, the uniformity of the DCUC collection is one of its strong suits. My collection looks like an army of good guys vs. an army of bad guys that have sprung from the pages of a major comic book event all drawn by the same (awesome) artist.

And then there’s the scale issue. Mattel has goofed here and there, mainly by making some C&C figures too big (others were too small, but that’s a given; I for one DON’T want a mannequin-sized Giganta in my office). For the most part they did their best within the constraints of price points and packaging. If you really want to complain about wacky scale issues, let me introduce you to DC Direct.

Taking all of the complaints/criticisms into consideration, Mattel is really in a no-win situation. In order to please all the people all the time, Mattel would’ve had to be, well… God. Considering they are a company and not an omnipotent deity, I think they did a darn swell job. No, not darn swell. Spectacular.

The line has had its ups and downs, but this week we have truly come to a crossroads. The line may well definitively die in about a week. The line as we knew it is no longer viable at a retail level. This can be blamed on many things, some of which have already been mentioned. I personally think that Mattel did such a good job at releasing characters that the line simply tapped out of retail-recognizable characters, Die-hard collectors, like me, who are still clamoring for those corners of the DC Universe that remain untapped were not numerous enough to keep a retail line going. I know if I were Walmart, I’d rather stock another Batman on my pegs than Phantom Stranger, that’s for sure.

With retail viability gone, Mattel could’ve easily nixed the line immediately without another thought. Keep in mind that this is the company that rakes in the dough via Barbie and Cars and Matchbox and WWE and Batman. The fact that they’re willing to do small-run collector lines as a subscription is amazing to me. Even more amazing is that they’re offering it for the second year in a row in spite of a lack of projected subscribers for the first year. I firmly believe the subscriptions are motivated by an appreciation from Mattel for both the property and the fans, and Scott Neitlich deserves a ton of credit for that. I may not like all the terms of the subscription, but given how little money the subs contribute to the overall Mattel pie, I am grateful (and honestly shocked when I think about it) that we’ve been given this option at all.

If the sub dies on August 6th, I will be incredibly disappointed. Because when the sub does, so does all hope for ever getting the likes of Ragdoll, Granny Goodness, or the Shade. (You know, it’s a testament to the line’s success that we’re begging for the likes of Granny Goodness at this point; in almost any other line, we’d still be hoping for Deathstroke or Black Adam or Zatanna. Heck, if this was Super Powers or Total Justice, we’d be begging for a second female.) Yes, there will be future DC action figures from Mattel if DCUC dies. But will they be 6″? Will they be sculpted by the Four Horsemen? Will they focus on anything but A- and B-listers? Any “new” DC line will start from scratch and never begin to plunge the depths that DCUC did.

We got 20 waves. Several spin-off lines. Walmart box-sets (including the freaking Crime Syndicate). Exclusive online 2-packs. Some sweet SDCC exclusives. That massive Legion of Super-Heroes boxed set. Females. Villains. (And female villains!) Justice Society. Rogues. The entire Legion of Doom. The Doom Patrol. Metal Men. Titans. Rainbow lanterns. Super Powers/Friends (yes, I said it). Are any of those teams incomplete? No worries, Mattel promised to get to them in the sub, and so far have delivered on that promise.

I hope the new DC Unlimited and Batman Unlimited lines are a huge success at retail, like the early days of both DCSH and DCUC. Because once the sub dies, these two retail lines may be our only chance of ever getting the Huntress, Ra’s, Ventriloquist, Vandal Savage, Talia, or Mr. Mxyzptlk. In other words, we’re left hoping that these lines can at least capture the limited magic of DC Super Heroes. It was good magic at the time, but far surpassed by the awesomeness that was DC Universe Classics.

If DCUC never existed, and someone was to somehow show me a picture of my shelves in my home office, lined with more than 200 unique characters from the DC Universe, and told me that Mattel would be making that collection over the next several years, my response would be one word: “Impossible.”

Why would any fan of this property ever want it to end? We have a chance this week to help the greatest action figure line the DC Universe has ever had (and probably ever will have) continue. Let’s keep it alive.

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