Stop me if I’ve told this story before.
I didn’t have much of a conventional childhood. When my 9-year-old brother died when I was 6, I was left an only child. So I didn’t get much of a chance to play like normal kids. His death left me emotionally wounded and hung over my upbringing like a shroud… And nobody spots weaknesses in children more than other children. So I withdrew into my own world and I learned to entertain myself.
It would be years before I discovered the glorious creation called girls (that’s definitely a story for another time), so my younger years were filled with comics and books. While all the other kids were playing at being Cowboys or Soldiers, I was reading… Anything and everything I could get my hands on… And imagining everything in my head.
That’s why this article isn’t about action figures. I only discovered these after I became an adult. My desire to collect them was brief and passed the second I realized the brutal flood from the toy companies would never stop.
I even remember the exact moment I swore off action figures altogether: When a HUGE DUDE bodychecked me into a toy display at a Toys R Us on a Tuesday morning. Instead of getting mad, I just dusted myself off and watched this poor, lonely man paw through all the new action figure arrivals as if his life depended on finding some rare Batman toy variant. I realized then– if he hadn’t shoved himself past me– that would have been me doing the exact same thing. And that made me sad, on so many levels.
I sometimes wonder what happened to this guy… The man-boy who made me realize the stupidity of my silly attempts to recapture my childhood. If he’s still alive (and hasn’t been found dead, buried underneath a mountain of plastic collectibles), I sincerely hope he’s happy. I would like to run into him one day– if just to thank him for saving me, oh, I don’t know… At least twenty thousand dollars.
I never fit the profile of the modern Action Figure Collector anyway. I was actually offended when companies purposefully released hard to find variant figures meant to drive collectors wild and turn them into insecure, mean, greedy individuals. I also opened all my toys. “Mint on Card”? Screw that noise! Action figures existed in my house to be displayed– and not in some custom-made hard plastic box either.
So that’s why this column is not about DC Direct’s Action Figures. I’ve never bought one. Ever.
But I have bought tons of DC Direct Statues & Busts. Lots and lots of them. And I’ve really enjoyed doing it. No more rushing to the toy store to line up before opening time. No more jostling in and out between dudes who needed a bath last week. I just preordered the damn things… And they simply showed up at my door in a well-packed box a few days after release.
And no, I didn’t buy only DC products because I hate Marvel. (Sorry, Zombies!) I actually admire and desire several of the statues and busts Marvel has released over the years… But they had too many suppliers making too many different kinds of collectibles. (Still do.)
In contrast, DC Direct seemed very orderly with their releases. After the Warner Bros Stores all closed, DC Direct specifically focused on limited edition collectibles, usually designed by actual comic book artists. DC also made sure to individually number each item– and place a numbered, full color certificate (complete with a swanky picture of the Statue or Bust) in every box.
It was just swell.
The first series of DC Direct Statues and Busts, called Covergirls of the DC Universe and Women of the DC Universe respectively, all centered around the Good Girl Art of the incomparable Adam Hughes. Each piece was exquisitely sculpted to match Hughes’ artistic eccentricities perfectly. There was nary a bad offering in the bunch… With only one Hughes design– Batgirl as a wide-eyed clueless twit– drawing any ire from me or other collectors and fans.
While Hughes’ art continued to be the linchpin of the DC Covergirls statue line until recently, Series 2 of the Women of the DC Universe bust line featured the designs of the equally adept Terry Dodson. Seriously, among contemporary “mainstream” artists, who would you trust to create drawings for a line featuring DC Women besides Adam Hughes? Why Terry Dodson, of course.
But the Series 2 busts also saw the quality of the sculpts starting to slide downhill. There were still a few stunning pieces, but the finished products often lacked some of the detail and pizzazz found in Dodson’s drawings. By the time the Series 3 busts– designed by the awesome Amanda Conner– were released, the sculptors seemed even less attentive to the recreation process. It didn’t help that DC Direct had also started haphazardly releasing a series of Heroes of DC Universe busts as well. There was seemingly no rhyme or reason to this offshoot of the female line. For example, the second or third male bust of the “Hero” series was actually a villain. This was also right around the same time somebody at DC Direct became enamored with gluing PVC elements onto the originally all cold cast porcelain busts for “enhancement” purposes. The first DC Direct bust to incorporate plastic as a design element was the ill-conceived Darkseid bust. The fake red “fire” consuming the Kirby creation’s lower torso looked goofy and cheap.
Even though I immediately despised the PVC additions, I wanted to give DC Direct the benefit of the doubt. “As long as they only use it sparingly on the cheaper busts” I thought, “It’ll be okay.” I could see why they were doing it: The parts of the sculptures reserved for PVC treatment would have been devilishly hard to recreate as stable porcelain elements. Still, given a choice, I would have rather seen simpler figures that focused more on the characters themselves– than some artsy-fartsy overly detailed designs– requiring plastic to recreate properly.
The overuse of garish plastic was the main reason I steadfastly refused to buy the DC Dynamics Statues– as each statue was composed of at least 33% to 50% plastic– with a porcelain figure inserted on top. The Dynamics line apparently existed to simulate an action like flying or running… But for me? I thought they existed so no one would have to sculpt feet– as almost every character’s legs disappeared completely into the plastic goo– as if Rob Liefeld had taken over the line’s design duties.
Right around the time DC Comics stopped shrink-wrapping their expensive hardcovers, DC Direct began skimping on their “extras” too. More plastic pieces found their way onto the various busts… And the cool, full-color numbered certificates I mentioned earlier? They disappeared. How much could these certificates have cost to print in China (where the statues and busts were all produced)? Being a full-fledged conspiracy theorist, I immediately took this as a bad sign things were about to go further downhill– fast.
But disappearing certificates were by no means the worst of it. Not by far.
Read what happened next after the jump.
Without any warning whatsoever, the DC Direct statue and bust releases suddenly slowed to a trickle… Then stopped completely. No real reason given– leaving me dumbfounded. By now, I had invested in extra display cases– since my collection had long since spilled out of the first two I had originally purchased. I even made the bone-head decision to mount the near-empty cases on my wall in anticipation of future releases. And now, there was nothing to fill them.
Then DC redesigned their entire website– making it near impossible to discover what or when any new statues/busts might be released.
Searching the Net weekly finally caused me to discover a few things: A nice looking Gary Frank designed Batman Bust (as if I needed another Batman bust) and a surprise Swamp Thing Bust (which I was actually quite excited about) were announced.
But with the site redesign, DC Direct also changed its name to DC Collectibles… With any “news” shrouded in an artificial atmosphere of hush-hush breathlessness. As you can tell from this DC Press Release masquerading as an “exclusive CBR Interview” with Geoff Johns and DC Collectibles executive Jim Fletcher, very little specifics were forthcoming. The words “cagey” and “vague” don’t even begin to describe their answers… And no new female statues or busts (the linchpin of my proud collection) were even being discussed.
I preordered the Swamp Thing bust anyway. (Even bought an extra one, since I live in earthquake-prone California.) The Batman bust was not distinctly being touted as part of the Heroes of the DC Universe line, so I declined to preorder that… And man, was I ever glad I did. It didn’t take long for me to discover that, moving forward, DC’s new “collectible items” were no longer going to be individually numbered… And the exact numbers of each Statue or Bust’s production run were no longer going to be revealed.
In other words, all of the information that previously identified DC Direct’s products as limited and collectible would be missing from the new DC Collectible offerings.
From now on, we simply had to take DC’s word that these pricey objects were collectibles– because they were slapping the words “limited edition” or “collectible” on the boxes. Before, with the numbering system– we knew exactly how many busts/statues were produced and exactly in what order our prized pieces came off the assembly line. With these new releases, we would know absolutely nothing… Other than what was generically printed on each box.
What the hell is collectible about that? DC could make hundreds… Or thousands. Either way, a collector would never know. All of this wouldn’t be so bad, if the items weren’t being produced by a Warners Bros subsidiary grandly redubbed DC Collectibles.
“Collectible” is no longer a descriptive word you could sanely use to a describe these newer pieces… It’s a euphemistic phrase. I can walk into any Big Lots! (a chain that sells low cost remainder merchandise here in the States) and see row after row of misbegotten crap labeled as “limited edition” collectibles. Everything is limited if it isn’t continually in production. McDonald’s often brings back the godawful McRib for a “limited time”. Does that make this sandwich a collectible?
Sadly, I had long ago preordered (2) of the Covergirls of the DC Universe Raven Statues as well– as this was the last piece from the original Adam Hughes designed line. And you know what? Even though this statue (like almost all the rest in the series) suffered from a long release delay, DC didn’t have the decency to follow the same “collectible guidelines” as they had with all the others. The bottom of the Raven statue has the same “TM and © DC Comics” labeling as the Swamp Thing bust does. And even though the Raven statue has the same Adam Hughes “artistic pedigree” as the TWELVE+ others that came before it… It will forever stick out in my mind as the bastard stepchild of the original Covergirls of the DC Universe line because of DC Collectibles lack of care.
The Raven statues stand as two $100 reminders that Johns and company have turned the once gallant DC Direct into just another purveyor of the stuff you could once buy from any of those (now defunct) Warner Bros mall stores I mentioned earlier. I can tell you I will never buy any more of these things… Especially if the words “limited edition” or “collectible” on the boxes serve as the only indication a DC Collectible item is truly “limited” or “collectible”. I’ll simply admire what I already have, as they continue to provide much visual pleasure.
Not such a bad thing when you think of it. As collectors become wise to this new scheme, my collection of individually numbered works will most certainly jump in value. Plus, I see no downside to not spending several thousand dollars on DC Comics merchandise this year. (I’ll figure out something else to put in those display cases… Or I’ll take them down and put up some more of those fancy Kotobukiya Bishoujo Statues. At least they hold no pretensions.)
And here’s the final nail in the coffin for this whole mess (at least for me): DC Collectibles also announced they will eventually be offering “special” variant busts and statues that can only be found at their shop on the DC website. (They are already selling a site-exclusive Sinestro as Green Lantern bust.)
Hey, weren’t exclusive, expensive variants one of the main reasons I quit collecting action figures way back when?
Wow. Talk about what comes around, goes around.