Mattel has the only license for articulated DC Comics action figures, besides DC Comics-owned DC Direct. These are based on all of the comics and animated projects that DC pursues. That means they’re one of the few outlets for all of your Batman, Superman and Justice League needs, and if you’re anything like me, those needs are intense. And you have trouble with girls. And sometimes get choked up at the end of a really good episode of The Office.
DC Superheroes, or DCSH for short, is one of the major toy lines from recent years. While Mattel only has the rights to Batman, Superman and their immediately auxiliary characters, their showing so far has been beautiful, giving us highly-articulated figures in Marvel Legends scale and quality. Of course, this leads to a lot of hope and debate regarding which characters are immediately related to Batman and Superman. Sure, we have Supergirl, but is Power Girl (Earth-2′s Supergirl) considered immediately related? How about Captain Marvel aka Shazam!? Such questions are shrouded in mystery and blister packaging. Batman has an awesome rogue’s gallery that could also stand some exploring.
On display were 2-ups (large scale, fully realized figures used in manufacturing) of an excellent Man-Bat and Clayface, though the Cassandra Cain Batgirl from years past was not. The specifics of future waves weren’t made available to me by the representative giving the demonstration, but it’s been rumored that the next, sixth wave will include a Cyborg Superman (with a half-robot face), a Kal-El Superman (in funky headgear), a black-suited Superman, and the long-awaited Mongul. While this might seem like one of those ‘let’s put a million silly figure variants into one assortment’ thing, I was impressed that all of these Supermen were comic-specific incarnations. This kind of attention to the actual literary character, and not trying to market a Rocket Launching Cyber Scuba BBQ Superman in neon green, marks a trend towards the collector market in action figures.
Also on display was Mattel’s other line of DC figures – the 3 3/4” scale Justice League Unlimited. Despite the fact that the cartoon has been off the air for a few years now, the figure line remains highly popular due to its Bruce Timm style and huge variety of both popular and obscure DC Comics characters. New on display were Joker, Blue Devil, Mr. Miracle, and Fire and Ice, thoough an Hourman and Hawkman are also rumored to be in there, among the various core characters in unusual costumes and action features. None of the 10” figures were on display, though the Justice Lords are also rumored to be on the way. And for the record, my kingdom for some more Green Lanterns. I love those guys. Ch’ip? G’nort? Larvox? You know they’re awesome.
In addition to those offerings, Mattel has created the DC Super Friends line. Only similar to the Super Friends cartoon of old in name, these are chunky-styled Justice League characters similar in size and shape to Hasbro’s Spidey & Friends line. Designed with small children and safe play in mind, these figures undoubtedly appeal to adult collectors as well, if only for the characters explored. We were informed that they all have action features, but also operate completely independently of their bases as simple figures. The initial offering will include 2 Batmen (one with a Batmobile), Superman, Flash, John Stewart Green Lantern, the oft-neglected Aquaman and villain Lex Luthor.
Though no The Batman or Legion of Super Heroes figures were on display. Mattel debuted their miniature battle game, Battleague. As much as we were forbidden from mentioning the word ‘Hasbro’ in Mattel’s showrooms, it was clear that Mattel was completing the unanswered DC Comics half of similar, existing toy lines – this one being a MUCH nicer companion piece for Hasbro’s Attacktix. While the game play appears to be similar, Hasbro’s Attacktix figures (featuring Transformers, Star Wars and Marvel Comics) suffer from grossly enlarged, cartoonish features and slapdash paint jobs. These Battleague figures are sculpted by The Four Horsemen, who are the Beatles of the action figure world right now, designing some of the most dynamic and accurate figures out there.
These figures also feature both missile and hand-to-hand combat features, but they look so much sexier doing it. I mean, we were already shown a Darkseid throwing a Apokalyptican hover device… that’s hot stuff right there. The figures will be blind-packaged, two to a box, and the starter set will actually convert into 3-D terrain. While 80% of all start-up games like this inevitably fair due to lack of support, at least these figures will look great, and were the highlight of the Mattel showroom. Battleague will not be inter-playable with Attacktix, though. Under penalty of DEATH. Anyone who’s read Toy Wars will know that if a Hasbro product and a Mattel product ever touch, even for a moment, a rip in space-time will create an unholy gateway into out dimension for Qwar’groth The Slippery, and it just gets worse from there.
In the interest of not making the world at large choke on my superhero fanaticism, we also saw the kid-centric Planet Heroes line of figures. Very similar in theme to the DC Super Friends line, these feature a set of ten characters who take their themes from the nine planets (yes, including Pluto), and a villainous Black Hole. These will also have bases and action figures, and I was really attracted to these… but then they showed us a trailer for the cartoon these would be accompanying, which instantly reminded me that I was 25 years old. And that Mars, apparently, has a Scottish accent. I thought that giving foreign accents to characters died out in the Phantom Menace Nute Gunray debacle, but it seems to still be goin’ strong. Nevertheless, the figures have a neat design.
And of course there were the Avatar : The Last Airbender figures. While the cartoon has been around for almost exactly one year on Nickelodeon, its success is immense, being one of the rare animations that follows a sequential storyline from episode to episode. The figure line has been popular, but continues to omit certain core characters (notably, the female ones), and future offerings on display seem to encompass only existing characters in animal armors. The upcoming trilogy of films by M. Night Shyamalan will likely create a whole new buzz about the property.
Our tour did not emcompass Barbie or Hot Wheels, but Mattel gave us a Polly Pocket (which quickly went to my niece) and politely ushered us out of their impressive showrooms, on to our next Toy Fair appointment.