With Toy Fair 2011 came an announcement from Mattel that this would be the last year for their Justice League Unlimited action figure line. For many of us, that’s going to leave a significant void in our hobbies. We’ve spent a little over eight years in our pursuit of these little guys and gals, but don’t panic. All good things must come to an end, and JLU has had a long, fun-filled life.
If we’re being honest, however, the line really only had two things going for it: the Bruce Timm art style on which the toys were based and the vast character selection. Give credit to the designers for capturing the Timm style so well, and give credit to Scott Neitlich – aka ToyGuru – for so much of the character selection. A fan and collector himself when he took over as Brand Manager, he should be proud of the extraordinary job he’s done with this property. He got the Question into the line when we’d been told for years it was impossible (never mind the fact that the line was supposed to end after the Grodd pack). He did the same with Lobo. He got us a Hal Jordan the only way he could, even if that just gave some people a new reason to complain. And then there’s the one I find most impressive, Amanda Waller. She’s not just a female, but a female antagonist (at least through most of her time on JLU). And she’s not just a female antagonist, but a female antagonist in civilian clothing. That not enough for you? Okay, she’s not just a female antagonist in civilian clothing, but an African-American female antagonist in civilian clothing. A black woman who’s a villain in a business suit, and he got her into a mainstream line in the action figure aisle at Target. That’s no small accomplishment. I’ll be very pleasantly surprised if it happens again in any of our lifetimes.
In terms of quality, though, the toys really don’t stand up well next to action figures from many other lines released over the last few years. Anyone who has a JLU display knows I mean that as literally as I do figuratively. From legs that won’t stay straight – if they were ever straight in the first place – to residue buildup on capes, the line had more than its fair share of mostly harmless issues. While I still love them for what they are, I can’t ignore the distinct differences when comparing these to other brands.
And the line isn’t exactly going out with a whimper, either. Future Static, Vandal Savage, Toyman, Killer Frost, Mongul, and S.T.R.I.P.E. are still coming. Even Goldface and Evil Star are on the way. What DC fan could have ever imagined those guys getting the action figure treatment? So while I’m certainly not happy about JLU winding down, I can’t be too disappointed about it, either. The writing has been on the wall since the show ended in 2006. Diminished demand for the toys has been glaringly obvious, and other than a few singles at Toys R Us recently, the line’s been on retail life support at just one chain since 2008. That it has continued for as long as it has without media support is a testament to just how special JLU is in the minds of its fans. When you’ve visited the core characters over and over again, though, and there are only obscure names remaining, it’s a tough sell to anyone but the small niche of us who have been fully invested in the line.
So after this year, I won’t have any more JLU figures to buy. It’s not just one line that I will no longer be collecting, though. After getting to know them so well since the original Justice League line that would eventually evolve into JLU made its debut in 2003, it’s time for Mattel and I to go our separate ways. We’ve had a good run, Mattel and me. They’ve been good to me, and I think I’ve been good to them in return. All the fantastic DCAU characters in my collection, those are a reality because of the chances Mattel took. It will be strange to walk into retail stores without looking for DC toys, but where would we go from here? DC Universe Infinite Heroes died just when it was starting to get interesting. Unless Mattel can squeeze a Hal Jordan Goes to Gotham pack with those Harley, Ivy, and Cassandra Cain sculpts into their forthcoming line of 3¾" movie toys, I don’t see much of a future for us. There’s the 6" DC Universe Classics line, but their boring, generic sculpts and poorly designed articulation made it easy to stick with DC Direct for that scale. Their Retro-Action DC Super Heroes are kind of cute in a kitschy way, but I wouldn’t collect them (not even at the discounted Marshalls prices). The idea of starting over with another animated DC universe doesn’t do it for me, and Young Justice is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike JLU. I find absolutely nothing appealing about Masters of the Universe or Ghostbusters, so the relationship seems to be over.
There’s no bitterness or malice here. And really, it’s not you, Mattel. It’s me. Okay, it’s you. That doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends, right? Maybe even friends with benefits if you can come up with something new and exciting down the road. I’ve been seeing someone else, though, and her name is Hasbro. But I don’t want there to be any hard feelings, okay? We can try to enjoy what time we have left, but after that…
So long, and thanks for all the figures.