Soapbox Sunday: What’s Wrong with Mattel’s New DC Retail Lines?

A couple of weeks ago, I posed the question if Hasbro could revitalize the G.I. JOE brand by launching a new 6-inch action figure line. I reasoned that if the Star Wars team could make it work with the Black Series and the Marvel team could go the other way (from 6-inch to 4-inch) with Marvel Universe, then it could work for Joes too.

DC Total Heroes - Superman DC Multiverse - Arkham Origins Deadshot

DC Total Heroes Superman (6-inch scale) and DC Comics Multiverse Deadshot (3.75-inch scale)

This past week I got my first look at Mattel’s attempt to breathe new life into their DC Comics license at retail with the DC Total Heroes and DC Comics Multiverse lines as pre-orders went live online. And good Grodd – I dislike them so much I want them to fail. Now I’m left wondering – are my feelings unfounded, making me a hypocrite? Why should I want to see this happen for G.I. JOE when I can’t stand Mattel’s attempt to do the same?

Looking for a great warrior No sign of the droids

A little hate for something new is expected. As someone who never collected Star Wars, the Black Series is a welcome addition to my buy list – 6-inches is my preferred scale, and the size allows the brand team to take it to the next level with respect to sculpt and articulation. But I noticed resistance from the folks who have collected Star Wars in the 3.75-inch scale – no one wants to see their toy line lose shelf space at retail because the brand team is focusing on something new.

Marvel Universe Wave 3

The same thing happened when Hasbro launched Marvel Universe – the Legends collectors feared that the 4-inch scale would usurp 6-inches. And when Legends went on hiatus, conspiracy theories were abundant that Hasbro hates the 6-inch scale. But I think these days, with 4-inch and 6-inch figures coexisting on shelves for both Star Wars and Marvel, it should be clear that Hasbro would love to sell as much product as it can, regardless of scale.

I’ve collected Mattel’s DC 6-inch offerings since it was all Batman and then Superman with DC Superheroes, the line that became DC Universe Classics – so I imagine that some of my animosity towards Total Heroes and Multiverse stems from the demise of Classics and retail and Club Infinite Earths at Mattycollector.

But as I look as objectively as possible at what has actually made it through the Mattel DC brand team’s gauntlet, I still can’t find much, if anything at all, to like.

Let’s start with Total Heroes. As pitched by Mattel, this line hopes to bridge the adult collectors and kid buyers by incorporating product features that appeal to both, at a reduced price. Looking at the upcoming product, and reading between the lines, I think this means that Mattel thought Classics had become too collector-oriented in its character selection and too expensive to garner enough sales to kids. Batman and DC Unlimited tried to address the character selection aspect, but at prices approaching $20 a figure, was still a tough buy for kids (and their cost-conscious Moms).

Superman / Batman: Public Enemies and DC Universe Classics Batman Figures

To take out cost, however, Mattel has made compromises that will alienate existing Classics collectors. Aesthetically, there’s nothing that can make Total Heroes work with Classics – it’s a completely new style of figure, much worse than when Mattel inexplicably made Superman / Batman: Public Enemies figures with animated-styled heads.

I guess the real question is if this line will resonate with kids. I guess we’ll have to wait to see what Mattel does with the line in a year. They are doing well with the Fisher Price DC products, but for older kids, without a tie to a DC animated show and with an anemic DC movie line-up, the limited media support will come from comics and TV show like Arrow. I think this would lend itself better to a line like Classics vs. the animated-styled Total Heroes.

Multiverse, on the other hand, is intended to target the adult collector segment first and foremost. It’s an odd positioning, because traditionally, the kids segment tends to favor smaller figures. This move from Mattel, when viewed next to Total Heroes, seems to borrow a page from the Marvel Universe playbook – if the 6-inch collector line is fatigued, then why not sell a new 4-inch line to them?

DC Infinite Heroes Batman (circa 2010) with G.I. JOE Snake Eyes

The real problem is that from a sculpt and articulation standpoint, Multiverse does little to improve the product from what failed with DC Infinite Heroes a few years ago. In the latter stages of the Infinite Heroes line, Mattel tried to advance the product. But these initial Multiverse figures remind me more of the earlier efforts. I look at what Joes and Marvel have done in the scale in the past couple of years and wonder how adult collectors could find the Multiverse figures comparable.

The significant change from Infinite Heroes is the Multiverse focus on the Arkham line of video games, at least for the first assortment. While I’m not particularly a fan of video game figures, I can imagine that folks that were collecting the 6-inch Arkham figures from Batman Unlimited aren’t too pleased to see the new ones coming out in 4-inches. I wonder if these were originally intended for the 6-inch line and then retrofitted for the smaller scale.

GI JOE Sigma Six Duke
GI JOE Sigma Six Duke, source: eBay

To close this up, I suppose if G.I. JOE did come out in the 6-inch scale, but were executed like Mattel’s new retail offerings, I’d hate them too. But they’ve already got a good example to follow, with what their colleagues on Star Wars have done with the Black Series. Mattel, on the other hand, looks like they’re following the JOE team, when they came out with Sigma Six. At best, I think they could get a short term boost from these new lines – but I’ll wager that they’ll be back in 2015 with another attempt at relaunching DC at retail.

I’ve had my say, so now it’s your turn. What do you think of the new DC Total Heroes and DC Comics Multiverse lines? Leave your comments below.

7 thoughts on “Soapbox Sunday: What’s Wrong with Mattel’s New DC Retail Lines?”

  1. Price and small selections. Therea only so many times you can buy batman and superman. They pit out the top 5-6 characters, kill the toyline, then relaunch a new line with the dame figures.

  2. I think it’s a mistake either way. With Joes, it’d be a mistake because if the problem with Joe is that moms and kids aren’t buying them at $10, they’re not going to be buying them at $20 for 6″ figures. It would only appeal to collectors, and collectors are still supporting 4″ Joes from Hasbro and even the ridiculously expensive outsourced collector club. They’re just not supporting poorly done overpriced figures with reduced deco and articulation and giant neon missile launchers. Hasbro made the mistake of playing strictly to kids with the Retaliation launch at the expense of the collectors who were keeping the line alive. Then they swerved back to collectors by making really awesome figures that will barely show up at retail since the kid-friendly figures are still sitting on all the pegs.
    Discontinuing the 4″ scale would just alienate the collector base further, especially when they’ve been showing off so many great unproduced figures at recent cons. Rebrand the line like with POC, and release the Ultimate Flint, Destro, Gung-Ho, Heat Viper, and the rest, and collectors will keep the line going until the next movie.
    Now Mattel is apparently trying to aim at kids and collectors at the same time, and I don’t see it working. Are kids going to want to log onto Mattycollector to buy an exclusive Total Heroes Black Manta for $20? Are adults who aren’t getting their great looking Peter David Aquaman going to settle for an awful looking Black Manta at the same price? Same with Multiverse. Are today’s kids dying for Tim Burton Batman figures? Are collectors dying for subpar Tim Burton Batman figures? I don’t see either line lasting over a year.

  3. If Mattel did an extensive 3 and 3 quarter inch line with the same articulation and paints as infinite heroes, but at the 5 dollar price tag they should have had in the first place (or any figure with 5 pts of articulation should have), I don’t see how die hard DC fans could pass it up. We happily bought 5 dollar Justice league Unlimited figures, if only for the new accessory pieces includes, then the 12 dollar 3 packs appreciating the price break, even though there was often a figure we already had 30 of. What we don’t appreciate is a 16 dollar price tag on endless 6 inch figures reusing the same body and ever diminishing paint applications and accessories. You either make it mindblowing for slightly more money, or scale back your tooling and cut the costs while delivering such an insane array of characters no one can say no. Of course, not having any cartoons on TV worth exploring via toys is not doing DC any favors. This might be the year DC Collectibles take the lion’s share of the action figure market. Did you see those Crime Syndicate figures?! Great stuff. Also, Hasbro doesn’t seem to flinch at new sculpts while Mattel does anything in their power to avoid them…and it shows.

  4. The Total heroes line is doomed…. Here’s Why…
    1) These figures would have been had the DCUC style figures been kept going. As soon as Mattel killed the Club and these figures are all that’s out the DC fans are walking away.¬†
    2) The Action Figure Line manager. Seems to lack the skill to keep people happy. Then when things are going badly he cannot deal with them but lies to make himself look good
    3) Mattel assumes it knows the customers and think that starting over the people will jump on board as it is we haven’t and likely wont
    4) Constant changes 
    5) The lack of connection to the DC Company and the Fans Mattel has moved in directions that go against what the Former Customers wanted.

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