The Mystery of the Missing Doctors

The Mystery of the Missing Doctors

 

Funko Pops are the Beanie Babies of the early twenty-first century.

I say that as a statement of fact, not as a slight or insult. Created in 1993, Beanie Babies were a fad collectible from the late 1990s. They weren’t toys in the normal sense, and are collected more for their trading value and the overall cuteness factor. I have several of them, most of them celebrating milestones in my life because they were inexpensive and heartfelt gifts from friends and family. I cherish them because of those intended purposes.

Funko Pops are very similar. They’re difficult to play with, but they serve as inexpensive gifts for the pop culture fiend in your life. The line spans thousands of characters over a wide variety of franchises and licenses. From a collecting perspective, while they’re certainly not as advanced and playable as standard action figures, they do provide an easy way to celebrate particular fandoms.

I don’t collect a lot of Funko Pops. I don’t have any problem with people who do.

My main point of contention is with the Funko company itself, or rather with how they treat licenses that they create for.

 

Here it comes: Oh, god, he’s going to talk about Doctor Who again, isn’t he?

Yes, I am.

The franchise hardly needs any introduction. It’s a cultural touchstone that has existed for 56 years with fourteen actors in the title role. There are a lot of collectibles on the market to celebrate this franchise, among them Funko Pops.

But I feel like Funko is doing fans of this show (and their product line) a disservice with their offerings.

Funko Pops based on Doctor Who started hitting shelves in 2015. Thirty distinct Pops were released that year, focused mostly on the revival era of the franchise. At this point, the show was between Series 8 (during which Peter Capaldi debuted as the Twelfth Doctor) and Series 9 (during which Jenna Coleman departed). The revival Doctors were highly represented and the classic era got some love as well. The modern companions were fairly well represented as were the monsters. The TARDIS herself got two releases.

Twelve of the figures – forty percent of the year’s figures – were exclusives to geeky stores (Hot Topic, Barnes & Noble, GameStop, ThinkGeek, FYE) and major conventions (San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) and New York Comic Con (NYCC)). The SDCC Twelfth Doctor in the spacesuit commands over $200 alone on the secondary market.

2015 (Thirty releases, twelve exclusives)

  • Ninth Doctor (x2)
  • Tenth Doctor (x4)
  • Eleventh Doctor (x3)
  • Twelfth Doctor (x3)
  • Fourth Doctor (x2)
  • Sarah Jane Smith (The Hand of Fear)
  • K-9
  • Rose Tyler
  • Jack Harkness (x2)
  • River Song
  • Weeping Angel
  • Dalek (x3)
  • Cyberman
  • Adipose (x2)
  • The Silence
  • TARDIS (x2)

The line slowed down considerably in 2016. Six figures were released and all of them but one were Doctors. Only one was exclusive.

2016 (Six releases, one exclusive)

  • Twelfth Doctor
  • Eleventh Doctor (x2)
  • Tenth Doctor
  • War Doctor
  • Davros

The following year brought a major shift in the line as only three figures were released, and all of them were exclusives.

2017 (Three releases, all exclusives)

  • Clara Oswald (SDCC, later Hot Topic)
  • Rory Williams (Hot Topic)
  • First Doctor (NYCC, later Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million)

In 2018, Funko moved back to six releases. Half of the line was sent to exclusive markets, including to Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC).

2018 (Six releases, three exclusives)

  • Amy Pond (ECCC, later Hot Topic)
  • Thirteenth Doctor (SDCC, later BBC)
  • Vashta Nerada (NYCC, later Hot Topic)
  • Thirteenth Doctor
  • Clara Memorial TARDIS
  • Missy

Finally, 2019 brought five new figures, two of which were exclusives. This year’s lineup was exclusively targeted toward Series 11 of the revival era.

2019 (Five releases, two exclusives)

  • Thirteenth Doctor
  • Reconnaissance Dalek
  • The Kerblam Man
  • P’ting (SDCC)
  • Tzim-Sha (NYCC)

Funko has released 23 figures based on the Doctor, but only 8 Doctors overall. The product line is heavily weighted toward the revival era, with only two Doctors and two companions representing the first 42 years of the franchise’s existence. Technically, Davros could represent the lone enemy from the classic years, but he has also appeared in the revival era which blunts the impact of that figure’s representation.

The problem is that we are missing six Doctors for a complete lineup of the show’s regenerating hero.

Funko has had problems completing lines in the past: Back when they had the Star Trek license, they created Pops for The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Star Trek Beyond. They completed the Enterprise crew for Beyond, but fell short with Next Gen and The Original Series. Specifically, they left out Beverly Crusher and Katherine Pulaski (both women and doctors) and only Kirk, Spock, and Scotty made the cut from the original NCC-1701. The rest of the franchise – Deep Space NineVoyagerEnterprise, the other twelve movies – didn’t get any love at all.

It’s not the only franchise line to fall to the wayside, either.

It would be understandable if Funko didn’t have the money or resources to complete the Doctor Who line, but that doesn’t jive with how they treat other popular franchises. Consider the various chrome sets (Marvel, DC, Star Wars, etc), the flocked versions, the sparkly “Diamond” glitter versions, the Rainbow Batman set (commemorating Batman’s 75th anniversary and Detective Comics #241), the DC Comics Lantern figures (Wonder Woman, Superman, and others became members of various Lantern Corp for a spell, prompting new Funko Pop molds for collectors), and the new Star Wars Skywalker Saga sets (which are really just repainted leftovers).

It also doesn’t pass the smell test when considering how many are coming out this year alone – an entire Mortal Kombat line, Miami ViceThe Dark Crystal, more Star WarsFrozenOverwatch, and the list goes on – and how many are stacked up on store shelves in the meantime. Just like Beanie Babies, these things seemingly reproduce like tribbles.

The evidence is clear. After an impressive debut followed by lackluster follow-up and lack of representation for classic fans, it’s apparent that Funko is failing fans of Doctor Who.

 

So, what can they do to fix it?

The obvious solution is to create the figures, but given that the market is saturated and (subsequently) distribution is scattershot, big-box brick-and-mortar storefronts are not the best option. I wouldn’t recommend convention exclusives either, since that approach tends to overinflate the price for anyone who cannot make the trip to San Diego, New York, Seattle, or other major conventions. I got lucky when shopping for the First Doctor because I found one on eBay that was missing the NYCC sticker and had a dented box, but not everyone has that.

Funko has worked with widely accessible storefronts such as Hot Topic, GameStop, Entertainment Earth, and Amazon. One option is to sell the missing Doctors through one of those more focused retailers. Another option is to use the online Funko Shop to “pre-order” the figures and judge how many to make. Six months later, distribute the figures to the buyers with a few left over for stragglers (which can by sold via the first option).

If this proves profitable, it could open the way for more companions, more monsters, and more Doctor Who in the Funko line.

Either way, the hole in the collection is painfully obvious. Doctor Who shouldn’t go the way of Star Trek or other incomplete franchise lines. It is a cornerstone and gold standard for science fiction television, and each of the incarnations of the titular hero has a dedicated fan following.

Funko should respect that history and those fans. They should complete the timeline of the Doctor.

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Debrief: Dragon Con 2019

Debrief: Dragon Con 2019
Atlanta, GA – August 29 through September 2, 2019

 

 

Dragon Con 2019 is in the books! I had a better time this year despite the larger crowd numbers. It’s hard to predict how the crowds are going to ebb and flow from year to year, but you could feel the 85,000 attendees like the pulse of the con this year.

We also did tons of good works this year for the Atlanta chapter of the American Heart Association. $110,000 is a lot of money, and I hope it goes a long way to helping a good charity with a good mission.Read More »

Dragon Con 2019

Dragon Con 2019
Atlanta, GA – August 29 through September 2, 2019

Logo_no_background

Dragon Con!

It’s an annual tradition for me, and a family reunion of sorts as I catch up with dear friends from around the world. This year will be my eleventh time attending and my fourth year as an attending professional. If you plan to be there, these are the places where you will be able to find me over Labor Day weekend.

I have fifteen scheduled program events in five days, and I’m sure more will pop up over the course of the con. Come find me and say hi!

The convention app is available now – look for Dragon Con by Core-apps in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store – and contains the current schedule of events. The list of confirmed guests, performers, artists, and attending professionals is available on the official Dragon Con site.

Dragon Con itself takes place in downtown Atlanta spanning five hotels (Sheraton Atlanta, Hilton Atlanta, Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Hyatt Regency Atlanta, and Westin Peachtree Plaza) and the AmericasMart Atlanta exhibition center. The convention draws approximately 70,000 to 80,000 attendees annually and showcases one of the city’s most popular parades on Saturday morning at 10am.

Dragon Con prides itself on contributions to charity and the community. You can find more information about those efforts on their webpage. Each year, the convention partners with a local charity organization and this year’s partner is the Atlanta Affiliate of the American Heart Association. It’s a personal selection for the convention and the donations are in honor of long-time Comics Director Thom Trainor, who lost his battle with heart disease in July of 2018. Dragon Con will match all donations made this year up to $100,000.

If you’re new to the convention, consider stopping by the Dragon Con Newbies group on Facebook. It is run by Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony, and me, and is an in-depth community resource for information about this massive (and sometimes overwhelming) event. Memberships (tickets) for this year’s convention are also still available.

If you want a printable copy of my schedule, I have a convenient PDF.

Note: All Dragon Con schedules are tentative until the convention ends on Monday. Even then, things are a bit suspect. As things change before the convention, I’ll update this post.
Revision History:

    • Rev 0 – 23 Aug 2019: Initial post.

I will be around starting Wednesday. Pretty much the standards of wandering the hotels, picking up my Hard Rock Dragon Con gear, and catching up with some friends.

1:00p-5:00p: Dragon Con Newbies Walking and Rolling Tours (4 hours)
Main Programming
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A601-A602
Want to get a ‘lay of the land’ and find your way around the hotels? Did you know there’s a food court? Meet others new to Dragon Con and get a tour with some veteran con-goers. Groups leave every 30 minutes. Last tours will leave approximately 4pm.
Panelists include: Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony

5:30p-6:30p: Dragon Con Newbies Q&A (1 hour)
Main Programming
Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level, A601-A602
First Dragon Con? Confused or overwhelmed? Savvy con attendees will share tips and tricks.
Panelists include: Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony

Other Events of Interest
10:00p-12:00a: The ESO Network 2019 DragonCon Meet & Greet (2 hours)
Westin, Bar 210
Hosted by the ESO Network

10:00a: Dragon Con Newbies 101 (1 hour)
Main Programming
Hyatt, Regency V
First Dragon Con? Confused or overwhelmed? Savvy con attendees will share their tip and tricks for making your experience an awesome one.
Panelists include: Kevin Bachelder, Sue Kisenwether, Kim McGibony

2:30p: Captain Marvel: Blast from the Past (1 hour)
American Science Fiction and Fantasy Media
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M302-M303
From her beginnings as a female foil to her own place in the MCU as a pre-eminent powerhouse, we’ll consider just how Carol Danvers and her story work in the MCU and her future as a stand-alone hero and Avenger.
Panelists include: Bethany Kesler, Casi Hamilton, Jenna Johnson, Kelley Harkins

5:30p: New Series Doctor Who (1 hour)
BritTrack
Hilton, Crystal Ballroom
With Series 11 over, this panel discusses what Chibnall did in his inaugural series as show-runner & the impact of the Doctor & her companions.
Panelists include: Angela Hartley, Robert Bowen, Allison Lane, JM Tuffley, Robert Lloyd

7:00p: Battlestar Galactica Anniversary Panel: The End…? (1 hour)
Military SciFi Media
Westin, Chastain DE
It’s the 15th anniversary of the start, and the 10th anniversary of the end of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica…are we ready to talk about it? What is the verdict? Where might a future reboot of BSG take us?
Panelists include: Andrew E.C. Gaska, Kevin R. Grazier, Van Allen Plexico

8:30p: Classic Sci-Fi Charity Theater: Mac and Me (2.5 hours)
American Science Fiction Classics
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
Witness the 1988 kid-meets-alien movie that totally was not an, um, homage to E.T. It’s this year’s movie watch for charity — you have to donate to the Dragon Con charity TO GET OUT.
Panelists include: Darin Bush, Gary Mitchel, Joe Crowe, Chris Cummins

Other Events of Interest
11:30a-12:30p: David Tennant (1 hour)
Marriott, Atrium Ballroom

10:00a: Classic Sci-Fi Roll-a-Panel: Batman’s 80th Anniversary
American Science Fiction Classics
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
We can’t possibly cover all Batman movies & TV shows & cartoons in one panel. So we’re doing TWENTY in one hour, with audience members choosing the Bat-topics on our one-of-a-kind Bat-d20 (we auction it for charity at the end of the panel!)
Panelists include: The All-Star line-up from the American Science Fiction Classics Track

1:00p: Earth Station Who Presents: Deconstructing Doctor Who (1 hour)
BritTrack
Hilton, Galleria 5
What are the essential elements of one of the most popular science fiction series for over 50 years? The Earth Station Who crew lead an in-depth discussion on the what, why, and how of Who.
Panelists include: Mike Faber, Michael Gordon, Mary Ogle, Tara Newman

5:30p: Farscape Anniversary Fan Panel (1 hour)
Military SciFi Media
Westin, Chastain DE
Farscape was a monumental show for its weaving together of intricate stories, compelling characters, practical effects in puppetry, and strong visual storytelling. Come aboard Moya as we look back on 20 years of this fan favorite.
Panelists include: Amy J. Murphy, Amanda, James Henson

Other Events of Interest
12:00p: Doctor Who Trio
Epic Photos

2:30p-3:30p: David Tennant (1 hour)
Marriott, Atrium Ballroom

11:30a: Bond, James Bond 007, Anniversary Edition (1 hour)
BritTrack
Hilton, Galleria 5
The Bond Film Franchises has a number of anniversaries this year including the 50th Anniversary of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the 40th of “Moonraker,” the 30th of “License to Kill,” and the 20th of “World is Not Enough.” This panel discusses these films and more.
Panelists include: Mike Faber, John L Flynn, Bob Nygaard, Caro McCully

4:00p: The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Steven Spielberg (1 hour)
American Science Fiction Classics
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
Our tribute to the creator who took us from sharks to dinosaurs to flying bikes to the Temple of Doom and back.
Panelists include: Michael D. French, Sue Kisenwether, Jessa Phillips, Jonathan Williams, James Palmer, JC De La Torre

10:00p: UHF: 30-Year Anniversary Sponsored by Spatula City (2.5 hours)
American Science Fiction Classics
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
See the epic Weird Al Yankovic movie — OR YOU GET THE FIREHOSE. Bring your own spatulas for a celebration where we don’t need no stinking badgers.
Panelists include: Kevin Eldridge, Shaun Rosado, Kevin Eldridge, Noel Wood, Beth Van Dusen, John Hudgens

Other Events of Interest
5:30p-6:30p: Catherine Tate (1 hour)
Epic, Imperial Ballroom

7:00p-8:00p: RetroBlasting Presents the Vehicles that Drove the 80s (1 hour)
Marriott, M103-M105

11:30a: Classic Sci-Fi Roll-A-Panel: 1979 & 1999
American Science Fiction Classics
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M103-M105
We have too many movies we want to celebrate and panels we want to have– so we’re doing 20 of them in one hour! It’s a lightning round crowd participation melee of geekiness that’s bigger than the Deep Blue Sea! This year we’re talking about sci-fi movies from 1979, and 10 movies from 1999, from Black Hole to Wild Wild West — Audience members roll a giant customized d20 to choose which movie we discuss, and then at the end of the panel, we auction the d20 off for Dragon Con’s charity.
Panelists include: The All-Star line-up from the American Science Fiction Classics Track

2:30p: Endgame: MCU (1 hour)
American Science Fiction and Fantasy Media
Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level, M302-M303
For the final panel of the con, we’ll look at the final film of this part of the MCU. There was a lot of fan love, and some crazy timey wimey stuff, and the sad loss of some of our favorites.
Panelists include: Bethany Kesler, Lisa Manifold, Alison Sky Richards, Jenna Johnson

Debrief: Atlanta Comic Con 2019

Debrief: Atlanta Comic Con 2019
Atlanta, GA – July 12-14, 2019

 

 

Saturday night’s all right for geeking out! Atlanta Comic Con 2019 has come and gone and this year was a blast. My involvement was limited to the panels in one day, but it was a fun day to be there.

After a trip on MARTA and a short walk, everything started with a visit to DougPool7 who was lounging on a beach chair by the ticket lines. I have seen a lot of Deadpool cosplays over the years, but this one really made me laugh.

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Deadpool on Vacation! #AtlantaComicCon

A post shared by Michael Falkner (@womprat99) on

You can find some more of his vacation antics on his YouTube channel.

Most of my time and all of my panels for the day involved a Drop of Mikes, which you may remember after the Council of Michaels that we assembled at Dragon Con 2018. The first panel of the day was So You Want to Start a Podcast with Mike Faber and Michael “Howdy” Gordon.

We had a great discussion with the audience as we talked about how to start a podcast, why you’d want to in the first place, and the basics of Podcasting 101. Once again, I promoted Tee Morris and his fantastic reference book Podcasting for Dummies. We also fielded a simple question after mentioning that, in general, no one is going to get rich and famous as a podcaster: “Why bother?”

We were pretty unanimous with the answer: Podcasting is a hobby and a labor of love, and as long as it remains fun, it’s still a worthy pursuit.

All in all, the audience was content with our advice. We fielded a few questions and offered a few more tidbits after the panel was over, and then we joined up with Michael Bailey to walk the con floor for a bit.

The four of us reconvened for The MCU: What Now?, our panel on the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

We had a wonderful turnout for the panel, even after half a row left when we told them that we would be discussing the most recent Spider-Man film. It’s entirely fair that they left, but we knew that couldn’t have an authentic discussion about the future of Marvel in film without including the twists and turns in Spider-Man: Far From Home.

This panel was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a while. The questions were intelligent and engaging, especially from the kids in a pretty diverse audience. There was also a spirited discussion about whether or not Thanos could wield Mjolnir with was quite enlightening. They actually changed my mind after the panel.

From this point, we bid the Fabers adieu and settled in for the afternoon and evening. Mike Gordon, Michael Bailey, and I grabbed some lunch, caught up on all the events since the last time we had been together, and toured the show floor until it closed at 7pm. After that, we settled on a bench in the lobby area and waited for our 10:30pm panel.

It was fun to watch the cosplayers and chat about all things geek – Bailey’s expertise on all-things comics is helpful in filling the gaps in my knowledge – but we were certainly baffled about scheduling a Batman retrospective panel so late in the night.

Regardless, after the awesomeness that was this Black Adam cosplayer, it was time for Holy Pop Culture: Batman at 80.

The Batman panel was pretty fun. Based on the time, we were worried about having an audience, but fifteen diehard Bat-fans (and one dude who wanted a relatively quiet place to catch some shuteye) joined in the fun. Michael Bailey led the discussion from Batman’s origins in Detective Comics through his evolution and rise over the decades to the character’s unfathomable popularity today.

After that, it was time to head home.

I’d like to thank the staff at Atlanta Comic Con for their hospitality and hard work. I’m definitely looking forward to visiting (and hopefully participating) again in 2020. I also extend a huge thanks to the Michaels – Faber, Gordon, and Bailey – for a great day of camaraderie and geeky fun.

We Came in Peace For All Mankind: Apollo 11 at Fifty

 

We Came in Peace For All Mankind
Apollo 11 at Fifty

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The crew of Apollo 11: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins (Maj Gen, USAF), and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. (Col, USAF)

 

I grew up in the shuttle generation. I watched with innocent eyes and felt part of my childlike innocence dissolve when the Challenger accident occurred. Undaunted, I wanted to go up there, slip the surly bonds of Earth, and chase the shouting wind into the sunlit silence.

Part of chasing that dream was reading about the history of spaceflight, especially the Apollo missions. I was amazed by how, after years of research and experimentation, we could sling three men to the moon and back in just over a week. One week elbow to elbow going there and coming back, but ultimately limitless when on the lunar surface.

Fifty years ago today, three American astronauts reached the moon. Two of them became the first humans ever to explore its surface. Five more crews followed them, and their inspiration lives on even today, forty-seven years after Apollo 17 landed in Taurus-Littrow.

Everyone involved in the history of manned spaceflight is a hero to me, but Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins stand out because of the milestone they reached and the impact they made.

Thank you, gentlemen. I hope we can continue to do your legacy proud in the future.

 

 

Apollo_1_patch

 

Toys, Collecting, and a Review of Hasbro Pulse

 

Toys, Collecting, and a Review of Hasbro Pulse

 

I don’t talk a lot about my toy collecting hobby except when I’m hanging out with Michael French and the RetroBlasting crew. I had quite a few toys as a kid, mostly consisting of small LEGO sets, die-cast and plastic military aircraft, and a plethora of Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. I had a couple of playsets – specifically the 1979 Hot Wheels foldaway service center and the Racing Champions SkyBirds USS Enterprise aircraft carrier – but playsets were bulky and expensive, so most of my play time was emulating car jumps from ’80s television shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, and The Fall Guy on the living room furniture.

 

I still have the Enterprise, though it is well-loved and the box is hanging together by a thread. I wish I still had the service center playset.

My sister and I got part of the first wave from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure line circa 1988, but we were limited to the four turtles, April, and Splinter. I remember the weapons being easy to lose and our enemies being invisible forces hiding around the couch. The Foot Clan are sort of ninjas after all, right?

My grandmother found two G.I. Joe figures in her neighborhood – a 1983 Blowtorch and a 1984 First Sergeant Duke, both stripped of accessories – and she kept them for me to play with at her house. I literally had no idea what they were until last year when I recognized them in Michael French’s collection. I also had a few vinyl toys like Gizmo from Gremlins, one of the small the LJN E.T. figurines, a Playmates Darkwing Duck figure that I won from a local TV station, and a whole bunch of things over the years that I know I’m forgetting about… but the point of this introduction is that I didn’t have access to a lot of action figures when I was growing up.

When Hasbro acquired the Star Wars license in the 1990s and released the new Power of the Force (POTF2) line, I spent a good portion of my salary as a part-time elementary school custodian on picking up everything with a 3.75″ figure in it. Part of it was the ignorant belief that these toys would be just like the vintage Star Wars line and be worth gazillions of dollars within the next twenty years. The other part was a self-taught course in budgeting, bargain hunting, and personal responsibility.

Long story short, I stopped collecting one of everything mint-on-card around the same time that Attack of the Clones came out. I finally picked up my collection from my parents a couple of years ago and started paring it down. The philosophy was simple: Those toys were doing no one any good inside giant Tupperware totes, so I needed to enjoy them or get rid of them.

I decided on both. I chose certain characters to keep for future display and the rest have been trickling onto eBay ever since. (Check the Tip Jar page for the link.)

To that end, I was pretty excited about the action figure news from Star Wars Celebration 2019. When they came available on Hasbro Pulse, the toy company’s online shopping portal, I jumped on the chance to order them.

 

Let’s take a minute here to talk about my experience with toy collecting and shopping.

Since 1995, I have enjoyed the toy hunt. It’s a sport that involves bouncing from store to store, walking the aisles, and hoping that the figures you want are dangling from the pegs. Before the internet was so widespread, it was a test of patience and luck amplified by magazines like ToyFare, which was Robot Chicken before Robot Chicken was Robot Chicken.

The biggest problem I have in the internet age is distribution. I watch the news about new Star Wars and Marvel releases, but I often have problems finding the figures after the published release dates for each wave. Some of them – usually the ones that I don’t want – have flooded the toy shelves, but others never materialize. To wit:

  • I bought the Black Series Captain Rex at Toylanta 2018 because it never arrived at the mass of Walmarts and Targets in my area. It was found en masse at Ross stores in the first quarter of 2019.
  • I found one of the Ahsoka Tano releases at my local Target. The rest were eBay and Amazon purchases.
  • The Black Series Qui-Gon Jinn only appeared at the ThinkGeek store that is nearly an hour away.
  • I finally found the Black Series Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus at Five Below, a local discount store, well after Rogue One hit Blu-ray.
  • The Walgreens exclusives are hit and miss.
  • The GameStop exclusives are consistent and readily available. They also have new waves earlier than most, but they’re also more expensive.
  • In the week or two before the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home, I found zero Legends hero figures on store shelves.
  • Walmart’s Captain Marvel exclusive, the Binary Mode figure, never arrived at the five stores in my area. Instead, a friend and I both paid nearly double the shelf price to order them internationally.
  • Target’s Captain Marvel exclusive, the Starforce figure, materialized months after the movie premiered. A friend who works at Target later elaborated on the problem: The box of four figures all comes in under the same number. They don’t know until they open the box which figures are in the batch, or which box has the exclusive figure. This is determined at the manufacturer level, not the store level.

I think a lot of this has to do with supply and demand. Hasbro puts a lot of figures on shelves at once, and not all of them sell at the same rate. But, since a store cannot just order more of the high demand ones and less of the low demand ones, they’re hesitant to put more undesirable products on the shelf just to move an extra item or two.

For some reason, the DC Comics figures are usually on time and in the right proportions to minimize stock on clearance shelves. Figures for Shazam!, Aquaman, and the new Multiverse line are on shelves and moving at a decent pace. Very few of them even get to the clearance aisle.

The exceptions, of course, are the Multiverse figures from the time of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s theatrical release. Those things breed like roaches on the pegs, and not even a rock-bottom clearance sale could move them out of one South Carolina Walmart that I visited.

The McFarlane Toys Game of Thrones line is another shining example of success: There are very few left on the pegs, and I have seen none of them on clearance. The majority of the peg-warmers are Jon Snow figures. Arya Stark has (fittingly) vanished into the night and the Night King is a lonely spirit if you can find him.

It’s obvious that the problem is with Hasbro.

I’ll come back to that later, but it’s a problematic statement to make in some collecting circles. Michael French regularly and objectively makes points like these and many others, and with similar regularity, he gets attacked by collectors who think he’s just out to take down a major toy manufacturer. Except that critics have nothing to gain from making these arguments, and we’re certainly not competing for any kind of market share.

We’re not even in the same market space. Michael reviews toys and pop culture on YouTube, and I review pop culture in writing and podcasts.

But, I digress.

 

I was excited about four of the figures announced at Star Wars Celebration 2019 that were available on Pulse. My wife is ecstatic over astromech heroes, so the Black Series Chopper (from Star Wars Rebels) and the new dingy Vintage Collection R2-D2 were easy to say yes to. Ezra Bridger (Rebels) represents a large hole in my character collection from that fantastic series, and I am one of “those fans” who actually liked The Last Jedi, so the astral projection form of Luke Skywalker was nice to see. When they came available, I decided that it was a win-win: First, since the figure waves are unpredictable in stores, it guaranteed that they would come to my collection; Second, it offered me a chance to try Hasbro Pulse.

(Aside: The Star Wars Rebels Black Series line still has a huge hero hole with the absence of Zeb Orrelios. I’m also holding out for Ezra and Kanan from the later seasons. I think Kanan became a far better character after he lost his eyesight.)

I got notified that the figures were shipping, as promised, in the first week of July. The Black Series figures arrived first, followed by the Vintage Collection figures soon after.

There were quite a few advantages to using Hasbro Pulse. The pre-order system was easy to use, and they limit purchase quantities to prevent people from gaming the system and scalping fellow collectors.

(Of course, Hasbro is responsible for creating a scalper’s market with super limited releases like the Retro Collection, but again, I digress.)

Pulse’s prices on the six-inch figures are comparable to Target’s price points – that’s typically between Walmart and Walgreens/GameStop – but the 3.75″ figures are closer to the Walgreens/GameStop level. At some point, I was able to get free shipping based on my purchase total, but nothing on the site indicates what that threshold is. I’m assuming that it is around $50, but it should be more clearly marked on the site.

The shipping boxes were fairly well packed and protected, but that also opens the door for the downsides to the Pulse experience. The first is that each figure was shipped its own box, which seems quite wasteful in terms of cardboard, packing materials, and FedEx manpower. There are pictures in various collecting groups from people that bought entire waves of new figures and ended up with plenty of spare beds for a clowder of cats.

There’s also a question of quality control. I’m not a mint-on-card/mint-in-box collector, but I’d be upset if I was since the Crait Luke came with a bent and creased card. Unless it rolled off the line damaged, which is a serious QC problem from square one, then it was bent in shipping.

(One more aside: It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a quality control problem given how many figures my friend and co-host Gary Mitchel has found that are in the wrong boxes. Unless Director Krennic has been moonlighting as a Scarif Stormtrooper, there’s no excuse for finding that many mispackaged figures.)

 

Overall, using Hasbro Pulse was a good experience. If there is another must-have figure or two, then I’ll probably use them again. But I have to address the elephant in the room here: The service does nothing to incentivize Hasbro to fix their distribution models. The company still makes money by giving collectors a faster, guaranteed avenue for buying toys, and they make even more by offering a $50 per year “premium” plan that provides free continental shipping, access to promotions and contests, and select extras at conventions and more.

Hasbro Pulse doesn’t fix the problem of not having new figures on shelves, nor does it fix the problem of supply and demand for store shoppers.

Hasbro could easily have it both ways. When I talk to toy collectors about their childhoods, most of their original toys were bought by their parents. I believe that Hasbro could bring back that feeling for today’s kids by selling the mainstream 3.75″ lines on store shelves and putting their more collector-driven lines on Pulse.

Look at the quality, the lines, and the price points. With their limited articulation and lower prices, the smaller scale figures are meant to be played with. The smaller figures are more timely – the shelves are filled with 3.75″ scale toys for recent movies (Avengers: Endgame) and television shows (Star Wars: Resistance) – and more accessible for smaller hands. This scale is built for impulse purchases.

The Black Series and Marvel Legends lines are designed for collectors. They have more articulation and posing potential, they have better paint jobs (in general), and they command the higher $20 price point. Hasbro Pulse is the perfect venue for more collector-focused offerings.

This is basic marketing. Build a supply, serve the demand. I don’t know many kids or adults who are excited about a comic-accurate Malekith, Black Bolt, or Namor. If Hasbro still wants to sell a piece of the premium market on shelves, they could limit them to the characters that kids see on screens. People will want a Spider-Man toy after they leave Far From Home: Make it easy to get one.

Or, even better, figure out how other companies are doing it right. Build a supply, serve the demand. Basic marketing.

Look, I’m far from a “Hasbro Hater.” Being critical about the company doesn’t mean that I’m trying to destroy them or that I don’t appreciate what they currently do. It just means that I’m a frustrated pop culture fan and collector, and if my discussions with other toy fans are any indication, I’m not alone.

I want to find the figures I want without resorting to discount stores or online scalpers. I want an influential and nearly century-old toy company to be better.

I want the collecting hobby to be fun, not frustrating.

 

Atlanta Comic Con 2019

 

Atlanta Comic Con 2019
Atlanta, GA – July 12-14, 2019

 

 

I will be at Atlanta Comic Con this year! I have three panels on Saturday, so come find me and say hi!

 

The convention schedule is available now. The list of confirmed guests, performers, and artists is available on the official site.

Atlanta Comic Con takes place in downtown Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Note: All schedules are tentative until the convention ends.

 

Saturday 11:00a – So You Want to Start a Podcast (1 hour)
Room C109
Have you wanted to start a podcast, Or do you have one and just want to talk shop? Well this is the place that will talk about how to create a show, what kind of equipment you will need to start, and where to post your new shows. In this Q&A session we will hope to point you in the right direction.

Saturday 1:30p – The MCU: What Now? (1 hour)
Room C102
The Marvel Universe has been on the big screen now for over 10 successful years, but last year it all came crashing to a halt with a snap of a finger. Now one year later we have been introduced to Captain Marvel and have seen the results of Avengers Endgame, but what’s next? Join the crew from the Earth Station One Podcast as we talk about some possibilities for new directions for existing heroes and some new ones on the horizon. We will be recording this panel live for a future episode of our podcast.

Saturday 10:00p – Holy Pop Culture: Batman at 80 (1 hour)
Room C110
Batman turns 80 this year. Join us as we spend an hour talking about his evolution over eight decades as well as his influence on and presence in popular culture. Holy puns will be kept to a minimum.