Saturday, October 5, 2013

Superheroes don't get their due

It should come as a shock to no one that I'm a huge fan of superheroes. In fact, I've often thought about retooling this blog to be more of a "spells and superheroes" blog (having already covered the cape-clad set in several posts).

I'm also a toy/action figure nut. And since I've frequented many a toy aisle over the years, I've come to the realization that there hasn't really been a decent representation of the main supers in quite some least not until recently.

When it came to toys, I had a charmed childhood. I could get a Batman, Superman, or Spider-man easily if I'd cracked open my piggy bank. In the last few years though, it's been tough to find the basic/regular 'ol costume for these guys--not to mention a lot of other high-profile heroes.  I had ample opportunity to lay mitts on everything from the larger MEGO figures to the later, Star-Wars-sized Super Power (DC) and Marvel figures.

Justice League (Unlimited) has been off the air for several years now, and the ever-popular 50s-ish, Bruce Timm designs that graced shelves are only to be found on secondary sites. Before the Avengers film last year--and the Marvel movies leading up to it--it was near impossible to get Captain America or Thor, if you were a kid.

These days I've got a nephew (officially) and several other nieces/nephews (unofficially) interested in superheroes. Not to mention, we just had our own little one this summer. It's been surprisingly challenging this year to find some of the more mainline heroes in their basic costumes--something strange for such a super-saturated superhero culture.

Thankfully, as of this writing, Hasbro (Marvel) and Mattel (DC) are probably doing the best they've done in years to help kids learn about the heroes. Sure, there's been plenty for adult collectors. But not much for kids, in particular.

On the DC side, you've got Batman...and everyone else. Even Superman is second banana to Bruce. Who's rogues gallery is more prominent? Bats. Who has the most costume variations? Bats. And that's exactly where the problem starts--it's actually really tough to find Batman in his default costume.

Any kid in the multiverse ought to be able to go into a major retailer and--for a reasonable price*-- pick up these characters off a peg:
  • Superman
  • Batman
  • Wonder Woman
  • Spider-man
  • Captain America
  • Hulk
Other heroes that could be considered secondary:
  • Iron Man
  • Thor
  • Aquaman
  • Flash
  • Green Lantern
I'm really glad actually that Mattel/DC are bringing Cyborg into the JLA fold properly. The more recognizable heroes really reflect a bygone era. It'd be nice to see a more realistic line-up, but that's another story.

Hasbro has actually done a decent job with their Marvel lines, thanks to the Cap, Thor, Iron Man and Avengers films--not to mention their regular Marvel Universe figures. Though it wasn't until Avengers that all the main heroes were easy to get. Plus they were not kid-priced.

But in tracking down some of the DC characters I began to realize it was near impossible to find marquee superheroes in their original/regular duds. Until recently, if you wanted to snap up a Batman figure in his regular outfit, it was likely $15-$20 PER FIGURE. Even Amazon isn't giving you much of a price break.

Behold! My prayers are answered!
Mattel, who holds the license for DC characters, recently put out a line of JLA action figures in the square-jawed style of the Batman: Brave and the Bold TV series line that ended a while back.

FWIW, I really like the new figs (and not everyone does) mainly because it puts well-known heroes in kids hands for a really reasonable price--one they can even afford without mom and dad.

What the figures lack in articulation, is made up for in having them in their familiar duds (no Polar Power Missle Batman, thanks). Some fanboys may whine about the "New 52" look of some (Supes sans red outer-undies) but these do nicely. They're solid-looking interpretations. I'm sold.

Likewise, Hasbro has a similar strategy for getting superheroes into pint-sized mitts by offering up their most-popular character, Spiderman, for about $5. That's the magic price point right there.

But they've also made a 10" version (again with limited articulation) for $10, along with Iron Man and soon-to-hit shelves-Wolverine. Hasbro, in my mind, is the winner here, offering both the standard action figure size, and the more hand-swooshable mega-sized figures at a sensibly-scaled cost. Hopefully they'll offer more A-list heroes this way.

Poor, Maligned Wonder Woman
Sorry girls, if you're into superheroes, there's not much. Batgirl and Supergirl are always folded into their male counterparts' lines. So no separate series, despite a popular and reocurring TV short.

If you buy this $50 JLA pack that also comes with Aquaman and Cyborg (both exclusive to the set). Yeah, WW isn't getting nearly enough attention when it comes to putting her plastic visage in kid hands--boys or girls.

This actually bothered me enough that I contacted Mattel via email and phone (knowing that they won't do anything, but it still helps to make the opinion known). I asked if there were plans to bring the likes of Supergirl or Batgirl into the fold. You already know the answer to that one.

Target recently released a JLA-themed summer line (yard and pool games, crafts, beach towels, etc.) While Batman and Superman got to keep their colors for their products. Wondy had to endure the pastel-if-ication of her identity (pink and lavender). Worse though, she's either identified as just "Justice League of America" or no name at all!

No Marvel Superheroines
Marvel actually has a bigger problem in that there are no A-list women. Yes, She Hulk, Invisible Woman, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Storm of X-men--all great suggestions. Zero of them even begin to approach Wonder Woman status. (Something that Marvel is currently desperate to remedy these days with two new comics, but that's another story.) The dearth is noticeable.

So what's the ultimate goal here?
Well, for one thing consistency. Both DC and Marvel have fairly spotty records when it comes to introducing kids to their characters. DC in particular starts a series and then cancels once it picks up steam. And that's just on some characters--others are totally ignored (again, Wonder Woman, et al.). Hasbro is doing better with their TV presence thanks to a first, and now encore Avengers series. But there are no figures based on either. But Spider-man's TV drives a lot of his current toyline. Huh?

So here's a proposal, a minimal 3-tiered approach for characters.
1. Comic/childrens book presence - It all starts here. Kid-friendly, well-rendered, in their "regular 'ol" duds.
2. TV presence - Same strategy as comics, support the main characters, with plenty of opportunity for bad guys and B-squad heroes.
3. Toys - Action figures to be precise, in their basic uniforms (preferably matching the comic and TV incarnations)

Currently, there's a lot of disparity between these three tines. Throw movies into the mix and you've got yourself into a huge mess. Marvel sells figures for PG-13 movies (sorry 7-year-old nephew, your parent say "no"!). DC sells Dark Knight figures which are super cool, but those films are largely not appropriate for younger kids (if not the subject matter than the approach to the characters in general).

*$10 per figure might be "reasonable" for an adult, but if you're a kid, putting together the main members of the Justice League should't cost you a year's worth of allowance. So let's say "reasonable" is less than that. How much less? Depends.

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