If you’re a toy collector of a certain age, it’s hard to remember a time when Mattel didn’t own a vast portion of the DC Comics action figure license. But as 2019 wound to a close, after many years of exceptionally cool toys, the last new Mattel DC toys appeared and were gone : a retro-styled Batman and Joker among them, a fitting close to an era. McFarlane Toys had won the license to make most things related to 6″-ish, plastic action figures from DC Comics, and nobody really knew what to expect. Superheroes that aren’t Spawn-related is not a McFarlane thing, with their focus mainly on things like Walking Dead and Stranger Things figures.
Here’s exactly why McFarlane making new DC Multiverse toys is a really, really great thing.
1. McFarlane has a history of revolutionizing action figures
There was once a dark time when action figures were only really available in a few scales : 3.75″ ‘Star Wars’ scale, 8″ Mego scale, and 12″ GI Joe scale. Sure, there were always a few lines that had their own scales, like 4.5″-ish Star Trek figures and Ninja Turtles by Playmates, but McFarlane’s original Spawn lines were some of the first to really consistently grow larger in scale, and with that, detail. They weren’t super-articulated, but the amount of intricacy of McFarlane’s figures was like nothing that came before them. And once that was mastered, those figures gradually lost most of their articulation as they became perfect little statues depicting unique ideas and imaginary worlds – bizarre monsters based on Clive Barker’s fiction, or elemental dragons, and even some warriors based on zodiac symbols.
Sometimes it got a little too weird, admittedly. I had to print out a little Twister mat just to feel even remotely okay with McFarlane’s treatment of Miss Muffet versus the Spider.
McFarlane’s first attempt at a comic-based Batman is weird compared to most modern 6″ hero toys, to say the least, but it’s great. Nobody can really explain that oddly-shaped ab crunch, or why his head looks a little small from the wrong angle, but somehow, it’s still a really cool figure with a really fair amount of articulation. And despite McFarlane’s history with breakage, I haven’t had a single Batman snap yet. It’s hard to imagine what McFarlane might do in terms of making superhero figures new again, or bringing them to their next iteration, but if anyone is going to do it, they can. Someone has to invent the double-elbow joint, swappable parts, and build-a-figures. And at the same time, this Batman is a really basic, standard foundation for what’s to come.
2. McFarlane does whatever they think is cool, and that’s cool
Many of the most recent waves of DC figures from Mattel have been confined to whatever’s been popular on other media platforms, so that meant yet another reiteration of the Teen Titans, thanks to the DC Universe TV show, or TV versions of Supergirl or Martian Manhunter. Somehow, The Batman Who Laughs, who was created in 2017 and became a major villain, never got an action figure – despite multiple statues and Funko Pops being produced in that time. Forced into themed waves of figures, Mattel got super boring… but this first wave of 12 figures from McFarlane is anything but.
There’s no rhyme or reason for mixing comic figures with animated figures, or even why McFarlane is doing animated-type figures while DC Collectibles is actively making their own. These are further mixed with figures from DC’s movie and TV properties, but they’re just an aside right now. It’s clear this early on that McFarlane is just doing whatever they want, dipping into neat places in the comics to find things like rarely-seen armors worn by Batman and Superman, and while they haven’t yet crept into making super weird characters, it feels evident that this is the test for how weird they can get. And for a company that made a series of toys based on serial killers, and/or overtly sexy reinterpretations of classic fairy tales… that gets pretty weird.
3. McFarlane (probably) won’t trap us with Build-a-Figures
Nobody wants to have to buy a Vulko to build a really gnarly-looking Trench Warrior, but sometimes that’s what happens. When you have a wave of 8 figures, you sometimes need to find all of them to make the one really cool figure in the wave, one limb at a time. In these first twelve figures, there’s only one build-a-figure, and it’s a Batmobile. While you might not really want another Nightwing, you’ll be relieved to find out that the pieces are divided among only three packages. Future collect-and-connect figures haven’t been announced, but this is an early sign that they probably won’t get overly intense. And if they do, they’ll be freaking massive. Does anyone remember Interlink 6? Devastator Batman, please.
4. McFarlane is focused on adult collectibles
If there’s one thing that former Mattel fans are bitter about, it’s that only about 10% of Mattel’s overall business plan involved what they called ‘adult collectibles’ – mostly action figures at a $20-plus pricepoint, more or less intendedto tickle big boys’ nostalgia buttons. Anyone who’s been to ToyFair, or followed Mattel’s nerd news, can attest to the fact that collectors were constantly reminded that they were not that important in the grand financial picture of Mattel, and they were also blamed for the success or failure of Mattel’s mature lines, like their attempt at 6″ Thundercats. It was always an icky feeling.
While McFarlane might dabble in younger properties, like Five Nights at Freddy’s building sets, almost all of their attention is on figures for really invested adult geeks. They’re a house built by an undead superhero who somehow stood out among the flood of weird ’90s gritty antiheroes, and they’ve never forgotten their roots. They’re also not distracted by the plummeting sales of Monster High dolls, or trying to increase Barbies appeal to a changing generation of kids. McFarlane is all in.
That’s where we’re left with McFarlane and DC. It’s a positive place, with a weird start, but with McFarlane’s experience, it would be really hard to screw this up. You can check out this first wave’s four different Batman figures in the galleries above. They’re absolutely worth adding to your shelf, if only to embrace the change.
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C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.