Here it comes…the obligatory Convention Exclusives Editorial.TM
A Mattel toy line can be a harsh mistress. There are fans who are still sulking over the infamous Keldor fiasco at San Diego Comic Con 2003, where fans lined up to get a raffle ticket that, if picked, would let them win the chance to buy an action figure. I’ve only been to the SDCC once–that year–and one of the main reasons I went was to get that figure. To Mattel’s credit, it was an awesome toy–but it was also incredibly hard to get for most collectors. And getting one meant you weren’t eligible to get the other awesome exclusive that year.
Well, the Masters of the Universe revamp has come and gone, but somehow, Mattel has managed to hook me again. Generally I’m not a completist but a cherry-picker–I only buy figures of characters I’m interested in or familiar with. There have been three exceptions to this in my adult collecting life: the MOTU revamp, Mezco’s comic Hellboy line, and now, DC Universe Classics. (I did skip a few variations in the MOTU line–I’m a completist for iconic versions of characters, but I don’t need Snake Armor He-Man and so forth.)
In each case, I’ve discovered the pain of being a completist. The MOTU revamp had the aforementioned Keldor debacle and so many distribution issues that I probably ended up buying more of that line on eBay than in stores (and now, of course, you can get all but the rarest figures for practically nothing). Mezco forced me to get trenchcoat Hellboy and Abe Sapien from their online store, and both suffered some terrible delays.
So far, thanks to a new system whereby cases are packed with a complete set and only one extra figure, I’ve been able to simply preorder cases of DC Universe Classics from the likes of Cornerstorecomics and BigBadToyStore without worry. Yes, I’m going to have a hard time finding a few of the variants I want, like the yellow Sinestro, but for the most part the variants haven’t been an issue for me–the standard figures are fine.
Let’s look at the 2003 situation. For the uninitiated, Keldor was Skeletor before his face got melted off with acid. This was a fan-favorite concept introduced obliquely in one of the last minicomics that came packed with the figures in the 1980s that was later embraced by the revamped cartoon show in 2002. The Keldor figure featured three interchangeable heads (Keldor, Skeletor and a halfway-melted, screaming face), a better paint wash than the retail Skeletor, and some beautiful packaging. While children probably wouldn’t have cared much for the toy, collectors–the main customer for the MOTU revamp, whether Mattel liked it or not–went nuts for Keldor. But a mere 5,000 figures were produced, and their numbers split between the SDCC and Wizard World Chicago.
Then there was the Batman exclusive of that year–a blue repaint of the black-suited Zipline Batman. While the Zipline Bats was awesome, most fans had grown up with the blue-suited Batman. Unlike Keldor, this Batman wasn’t just an unusual exclusive–it was arguably the iconic version of the character, with a better paint wash and the much-loved “yellow oval” bat insignia. So this was the ideal Batman for many fans, children and collectors–and most couldn’t get to either the SDCC or WWC. And again, if you got Keldor, you couldn’t get a Batman, and vice versa.
Last year, the Mattel SDCC exclusive for the DC Superheroes line (the predecessor to DCUC) was Man-Bat. This was a brand-new, unique character, with an excellent sculpt and paint application. To give credit to Mattel, they later made the figure available via Wizard’s online website, and in fact, he’s still available. But for a while, many fans had to either pay ridiculous prices on eBay or accept the fact that they would go without a Man-Bat.
To be fair, the circumstances were a bit complicated in the case of Man-Bat–at the time, a brown Man-Bat was supposed to be released in the fall at retail, and the white Man-Bat was supposed to be a variant exclusive. Unfortunately, Mattel has yet to release the brown version, so if fans want a Man-Bat, they have to get the exclusive or nothing.
Yesterday, Mattel released a few details about this year’s DCUC exclusive:
Question: Is there an a plan for making the exclusives at Wizard World Chicago and SDCC available to people who are not able to attend the conventions? If so, what is it?
The convention exclusives are specifically designed to reward fans who trek out to each show. If we made all of our exclusives available at retail it would diminish the unique collectibility of these figures. Currently the plan is for these figures to be available only at San Diego Comic Con this year. (Wizard World and NY will share some other repaint and re-release exclusives which will be announced soon). [source: The Fwoosh]
Q: Will there be an exclusive DCUC figure for Comicon? If so, can you give us a hint if it will be an all-new figure (like Manbat was) or a repainted figure?
A: We can confirm there will be a DCUC figure for Comic Con. It will be a “new” figure that shares some existing parts. But it will be just as “new” as Orion and Red Tornado sharing parts. We can’t give any more hints at this time other then to say it is a an alien figure. We will be revealing all of our San Diego Comic Con figures at NY Comic Con in April. [source: AFTimes]
Here are my thoughts on convention exclusives. In my mind, there are three levels of action figure exclusives:
1.) The cool but non-canonical or unrealistic redeco. An example of this would be the exclusive MOTU figure Mattel sold at the 2002 SDCC. It was He-Man in comic-con colors (blue and gold, with a chrome shield). This wasn’t He-Man in any sort of alternative costume, and it certainly wasn’t the iconic He-Man; it was just a He-Man in unusual colors related to the convention itself. It makes for a good collector’s item, but there’s no reason a child would want it, and collectors who just want iconic versions of characters don’t have to stress about scoring one of the 1,000 figures in the production run. Another example of this sort of exclusive is the Holiday Darth Vader.
2.) The canonical or realistic redeco. This is a figure whose repaint makes sense, but whose iconic version is or was easily available at retail. If the brown Man-Bat had made it to retail, then the albino Man-Bat exclusive would be one of these. Another example of this sort of exclusive would be the Ghost of Lobster Johnson. You could also make an argument that Keldor falls into this category, though that’s more of a gray area. While this sort of exclusive is often strongly desired by fans, it’s still not a must-own for anyone who wants at least one of each character in the line.
3.) The unique figure. This is a figure of a character that is never released at retail. The most notorious example of such a figure, though it wasn’t a convention exclusive, has to be JLU Hal Jordan, in which one hundred figures of the most popular Green Lantern ever were produced for employees–and then the molds were promptly destroyed. I really don’t understand what Mattel’s thinking was here, but it’s the archetypal example of this sort of exclusive.
As for this year’s SDCC, it sounds like the figure will be a character who has not yet appeared at retail. What’s unknown is whether this will be fans’ only chance to get this character, or if it will be just a redeco of a figure that will be available at retail.
My money’s on Martian Manhunter, since he’s an extremely easy retool from Red Tornado. It’s possible that the classic (and far more popular) Martian Manhunter will be in the retail line and the SDCC exclusive will be the less iconic modern version. That would certainly be a better scenario than the classic MM, who I would have to hunt down by hook, crook, or bankruptcy.
If you’ll permit me to generalize a bit, it comes down to the fact that there are two types of action figure collectors. There are those (such as me) that I’ll call fiddlers, who like to open their toys and fiddle with them. They enjoy displaying them, finding cool poses and making dioramas. They often love the characters as much or more than they love the figures.
Then there are those I’ll call moncs (from MOnC–Mint On Card), who, like their religious homophones, are dedicated to preservation–they collect action figures like they would books or works of art, keeping them pristine in their packaging, aware of their value, working to ensure the most complete collection possible.
I think convention exclusives should cater to moncs. First off, moncs are usually more willing and able to spend the resources necessary to get a rare item. Moncs also have a stake in the item’s rarity–that is, they have a reason for wanting it to be hard to get, and they get a certain amount of pride in owning it.
Fiddlers, on the other hand, just want to fill that Martian Manhunter-shaped gap in their Justice League table diorama.
For these reasons, I believe convention exclusive action figures that aren’t produced in reasonably high (10,000+) numbers and won’t be available in some way outside conventions should be of the first category–redecos that aren’t from the source material. They’re still collector’s items, but their absence won’t gnaw at a fiddler’s soul.
Online shop and/or mail-away exclusives are a good place for the second type of exclusive, which are probably a necessary evil. There are just some redecos that are popular enough to merit a figure, but not popular enough to warrant inclusion in the retail line.
The third type of exclusive should not exist. Individual characters should always be available at retail.
Heck, the way obscure or fan-favorite characters often get shortpacked in retail cases, they’re almost as hard to get as exclusives anyway.