"I can’t see buying many of these."
"With only a couple of exceptions, this line looks really cheap, like some Lanard The Corps! figures."
Those were my initial reactions upon seeing the first Toy Fair images of Mattel’s DC Universe Infinite Heroes line back in 2008. I was less than impressed, to say the least.
The worst part about the line for me was the hands on the male figures. Those huge, giant hands were bigger than some figures’ heads, and they were more than enough to keep me from buying any of them. It was a shame, too, because I would have loved to love the line. The DCU is my favorite fictional universe, and 3¾" is my favorite scale. I own over a hundred DC Direct figures and around 130 DCAU toys (including B:TAS, Justice League, JLU, and my Static figure from Subway). Despite my devotion to DC, though, I own twice as many G.I. JOE and STAR WARS figures. Aside from a few characters, I’ve never been much of a Marvel fan, but I started buying the Marvel Universe line that Hasbro first showed in San Diego later in ’08 the first chance I got. No, I didn’t have as much of a connection to the characters, but there was enough nostalgia for Mattel’s old Secret Wars line to hook me. But really, the bottom line is the toys were fantastic. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same about Infinite Heroes, or really even anything nice at all. And like I said, I’m an enthusiastic fan of 3¾".
I didn’t buy a single one until I saw the Gotham Knight three-pack, but I still wasn’t very impressed. It was $5.99 at TJ Maxx, and I bought it as much for the packaging as for the toys. I thought it would display nicely boxed. When the Public Enemies figures were released, I didn’t pay enough attention to the characters to notice the new construction style or the lack of giant hands. I barely even glanced at them. I thought Monsieur Mallah and the Brain looked really good, but Arsenal and Cyborg made me put the set back on the shelf. I don’t know how many times I’ve picked up the single Black Lightning – one of my favorite DCU characters – in a store, only to hang him back on the peg. How great would it be to have a 3¾" Black Lightning? But those hands…
Cut to June of this year. That’s when I saw the new Batman single at Target. I finally took notice of the v3 construction style, the better hands, and the overall improvement of the figure. I thought about buying him, but I decided against it. The next time I was in Target, it was Deathstroke that caught my eye. I couldn’t deny it; this was a nice action figure. "Okay," I thought. "I’ll buy Batman, and Deathstroke can come along so he’ll have an adversary." Then I saw Mr. Terrific. Hey, Batman needs at least one superfriend, right?
I bought those three on June 21. I immediately began checking online to see which figures had the updated construction styles and articulation (and thanks to those of you who helped with some of that information), so it didn’t take long to see that I actually did want some of those Public Enemies packs. A 3¾" Black Lightning with hands appropriate for a human? Captain Atom? Superman? Sold. Booster Gold and Maxwell Lord? Sold. Hal Jordan, Firestorm, Sinestro, and Animal Man? Sold. Even the new Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl figures look better than the originals with the new paint applications. Seven weeks after buying Batman, I now have 39 DCIH figures, with a few more already on the way. That’s not including a few duplicates and grande-hands figures I gave away or tossed in a box. The only figure with the old, huge hands that made his way into my display is Bizarro, and that’s only because such a deformity makes sense for the character. I even bought a DC Universe Classics Atom Smasher on eBay to display with them. Many collectors have mentioned DCUC reminding them of Super Powers, but I’ve certainly never seen them that way. While his size makes him look cool with the 3¾" figures, Atom Smasher mostly reminded me of why I don’t buy the DCUC figures. And the more DCIH characters I acquire, the more this line reminds me of Super Powers. The Batman figure also makes me think of my old Mego Pocket Super Heroes version of the character that I had long before the days of The Super Powers Collection. Talk about nostalgia.
That’s not to say I’m as thrilled with them as I was with the Super Powers Collection as a kid, or anything. Do I love them? No. Are they on par with Hasbro’s Marvel Universe line? No. I do like these improved figures, though, and they’re fun. They’re a lot of fun. If I want to really dork it up, I can carry Batman around in my pocket and take him wherever I go. A comic-style DCU line in this scale is such a great plan, but the execution just wasn’t there in the beginning. It’s still not where it could be, but Mattel has implemented drastic changes that make the more recent offerings so much better than the first several waves.
So when San Diego Comic-Con came and went without any real news for the line, I was once again disappointed with DCIH, but for different reasons this time. I wasn’t really hoping for anything specific, except perhaps revisiting characters like Green Arrow, Hawkman, Question, Atom, Captain Marvel, Blue Beetle, and others who’d only seen "gigantor hands" releases. I was hoping for something, though, but Mattel only said the line would focus on Green Lantern in 2011. Considering the latest three-packs were shipping straight to discount retailers, the Big Box stores – the ones who matter and decide the fate of such lines – had obviously lost interest, so this really wasn’t all that surprising. Going heavy with the Green Lantern theme next year makes the most sense. Retailers will want it with a summer blockbuster to drive sales, and that kind of media support will help get kids interested. It could be just the shot in the arm DCIH needs for its eventual return to the DCU (fingers crossed!). And let’s face it, for a line called Infinite Heroes, it still has so much of the DC Universe left to explore.
I obviously wasn’t as disappointed as the collectors who’ve been with this line since the beginning, as I only have a few weeks invested in it. I also have some figures I missed that I still need to track down, and pretty much everything about it is new to me. That leaves me with a different perspective, too, as I seem to be more excited than most about the Green Lantern focus for next year. I’m looking forward to seeing what Mattel has in store for DC in the 3¾" scale, and it seems like they’ve learned quite a bit during these last two years. A few more things they should keep in mind:
· Keep working on improving the figures. While none of the ones I’ve purchased have broken, I do have a couple of stuck wrist joints that will snap if I attempt to turn them. Too many people seem to mention broken joints all too often. Don’t just "test" the toys; play with them. Better yet, have your kids or your friends’ or relatives’ kids play with them. Let them sit in a room full of toys and work out battles with their imaginations. See what survives and what doesn’t, and take what you see back to the designers. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water, though. This line has come a long way, so don’t feel like you have to start from scratch to get it off life support.
· And speaking of kids, it wouldn’t hurt to concentrate a bit more on play value. Collectors aren’t the only ones who like accessories. The fist construct packed with the SDCC Green Lantern repaint is a great one, as is Wonder Woman’s lasso. A Batarang is something that could be used again and again with Batman, Robin, Batwoman, and (hopefully in the future) different versions of Batgirl. The packages don’t need to be loaded with accessories like G.I. JOE figures are, but one or two would be great.
· Look at what your competitor is doing. Don’t try to copy STAR WARS, Marvel Universe, or G.I. JOE, because you’ve started your own thing in its own scale. Do pay attention to them, though, and see if they give you any ideas. Hasbro has so much success in 3¾" for a reason, and there’s no shame in looking to that success for inspiration. Elbow articulation on slender female arms is possible without big, clunky joints. Once again for emphasis, don’t imitate; innovate! Do things others will want to copy.
· Finally, if you can win me over after the way I felt about these when you first introduced them, then you can win over other collectors as you continue to expand the character selection and improve the designs. If you can get retailers back into the game, I’ll buy every DCU character you release with the newer body styles, including rereleases of Green Arrow and the others I mentioned. Just give them the normal hands treatment. As far as adult collectors go, I was your target market for this line. I rejected you at first, but now you’ve lost weight, gotten rid of the braces, and stopped letting your mom pick out your clothes. You’re attractive now, even sexy at times, so you’ve won my interest.
And for those who were left with disappointment after SDCC, try to remember that Mattel would be cranking these out if Big Box retailers would place orders for them. Yes, Mattel has made mistakes with the line along the way (like going into production with those gargantuan hands in the first place), but the progress shown over the last year is substantial. Matty doesn’t want to dump you; he just needs to take a break. They obviously want to continue the 3¾" scale, especially considering what they’ve invested into it. I know it wasn’t the update for which we were hoping. All the negativity in the world, however, won’t ever get another figure released. But more on that next time.
For now, the UPS web site says I have a package from Matty out for delivery today, so I’m going to go wait on Brown.