Okay, I’ll admit it. I killed DC Universe Classics at retail. To some of you — the younglings — this may come as a shock. How could your dear uncle Anthill claim responsibility for ending one of the most beloved action figure lines of our time? I do, for I must. To others among you, it is no surprise; in spite of our fellowship, you knew in the end I would betray our great cause. When I began down this path years ago I didn’t, I couldn’t, know the temptations that lay before me. I was in it for the heroes, for the villains, for the classics, man! And yet, in the end, I strayed from that path, following a strange new muse that in the end offered only the destruction of that which I held most dear. For what brightly-colored bauble did I sell my soul, you ask? What unbreakable plastic bargain did I make with the demon known only as… Matty? Well, I will tell you, my friends. Better yet, I will show you…
I know, I know. I should have had the children removed from the room! Take them from me! Take them from my shame!
It was the monstrous two-headed hydra known as Waves 17 and 18 that laid waste to DCUC at retail. It came unexpectedly, a broadside after the well-received Bane wave. The line had never seemed stronger, but to the seasoned eye, the rot had already set in. While the Super Powers version of the Paradmon had innocuously slipped in during wave 8, (and Super Powers Mantis in the following wave), it was the inclusion of the much-maligned Cyclotron that truly showed the problem: Super Powers nostalgia had tainted the Universe.
It was no secret that both brand manager Scott Neitlich and sculptors the Four Horsemen loved the unconventional characters Kenner saw fit to pepper the original Super Powers line with, but fans of DC Universe Classics had a hard time understanding their inclusion in the new line. Who was asking for Cyclotron? Nobody, that’s who.
Tyr arrived in wave 14 followed by seriously tricked-out Golden Pharaoh. It was clear fans were now expected to take one for the Kenner fetishists, but at one figure a wave, the doses were moderate. Then came the beast, first in the form of the “Rainbow Lantern” wave. An entire series of story-specific repaints based on characters dressed in goofy costumes worn for one issue was poison to the base, and collectors recoiled. Matty claimed it was the fan’s idea and the fans… well, they said otherwise. It was uncomfortable.
If Wave 17 was an undeserved slap on the snout, then wave 18 was a bullet in the back of the head. A harsh assessment? Perhaps, but in an assortment made up of two out-of-left-field characters no one had asked for, (Bronze Tiger and Toyman), a Captain Boomerang in a costume everybody hated, and four Super Powers figures, it’s hard to look at this as anything but shootin’ old Yeller out behind the barn.
Wave 18 tanked and tanked hard. With pegs still chock full of the unwanted wave 17, the Super Powers figures had nowhere to go. They sat in piles at the bottom of retailer’s shelves, as undesirable as the mismatched electronic Hulk fists and Lego sets with the minifigures ripped out. To this day, I can still find Bronze Tiger and Samurai at my local Toys R Us — at $19 and change, no less! While we can all agree that Toys R Us is pretty pig-headed when it comes to reducing their merchandise, it’s also indicative of the impact these two waves (and the Green Lantern movie figures, naturally) had on retailers that they remain so desperate to recoup their losses. And what’s my part in this, you ask? What am I guilty of?
I wanted them. God help me, I wanted them all!
Okay, not the Rainbow Lanterns — those figures sucked. But I was all in for the Super Powers figures. It didn’t matter that I had no personal attachment to Apache Chief or Black Lightning, nor was I worried their inclusion meant someone else’s favorite character would never be made — I wanted them because, ultimately, I got greedy. My toy collecting philosophy has always been the more, the merrier. It’s why I have so many X-Men figures — I’ve never been a fan of the team, but my Marvel shelves seem incomplete without Nightcrawler, Colossus, Cyclops, and the rest. I’m far from a completist; I just like a lot of people at the party!
Unfortunately, all parties have a maximum capacity, and my open-door policy encouraged DC to completely surpass theirs at retail. In retrospect, I’m merely an accomplice; it was Mattel’s hubris in thinking the line could carry such niche figures while the company held back fan-demanded characters like Poison Ivy and Ra’s al Ghul that was its true undoing. After a series of aborted restarts, Mattel all but gave up. Thanks to the mishandling of the line at retail, the DC brand has never quite recovered its top-shelf status, with its offerings playing second fiddle to Marvel’s movie leftovers.
Ultimately, in spite of how it happened, it’s wrong to begrudge these guys their existence — after all, who doesn’t want to exist in three dimensions? The Super Powers figures are innocent or, at least, less guilty. Cut them some slack, will ya?
Jason R Mink is the Man in the Anthill!