Culture on My Mind – DC FanDome and Justice League

Culture on My Mind
August 28, 2020

 

Last weekend saw teases of the future for DC Entertainment at DC FanDome. Effectively like Comic Con, but centered strictly on the worlds of DC Comics, FanDome covered the spectrum of comic books, movies, television, and video games. Another event is scheduled for September 12th.

Of course, this event came on the heels of mass layoffs at DC, including one-third of the company’s editorial staff and the majority of the crew at the DC Universe streaming service. The future of DC Entertainment seems to be the recently launched HBO Max service.

In particular, I am interested in the future of DC Entertainment on film, so the majority of the trailers I took in this weekend were from that front.

 

Wonder Woman 1984

The trailer that I enjoyed the most was the Wonder Woman 1984 preview. It is no secret that I absolutely loved the first Wonder Woman film starring Gal Gadot, including how it balanced the realities of war with the title character’s message of compassion and acceptance. This sequel was hit hard by the pandemic and has been rescheduled to October 2nd. I’m looking forward to seeing it in theaters if possible.

 

The Suicide Squad

I was also intrigued by the “roll call” teaser for The Suicide Squad. The first film with Amanda Waller’s team was overly encumbered by its own darkness. There were a lot of interesting moments, and I did love Margot Robbie’s interpretation of Harley Quinn, but the rest really felt like a slog through the swamp.

Enter James Gunn. His work on the Guardians of the Galaxy films for Marvel has stoked my excitement to see this one, as has the lineup of actors. Peter Capaldi had me interested when he mentioned having to lose his iconic hair for this role, and that’s going to be a hard one for me to process on screen.

I’m also reminded that I still need to see Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).

 

The Batman

The next adventure of the Caped Crusader appears to be inspired by Batman: Year One. When this was announced, I was not particularly excited because I feel like Batman is done too often. Quite often, he’s done with too much emphasis on the vigilantism and fear, and not nearly enough on his technical and detective skills.

This version seems to be getting back to basics. I’m eager to see what comes of future previews when the movie is closer to completion.

 

Justice League: The Snyder Cut

The last big trailer is for a project that I’m not excited about.

I was not very familiar with Zack Snyder’s work prior to Man of Steel. The only film of his that I had seen was 300, and I despised it. While Man of Steel‘s vision of Superman was not what I expected from a Superman film, I still enjoyed it for the most part. It did not have a lot of humor, which is something that I expect from a Superman story, but it was also a “Superman Begins” tale. From his rise as a hero to the lessons learned from killing Zod, destroying massive amounts of real estate, and endangering the people he typically has sworn to protect to a fault, Man of Steel paved a good path forward for a vision of Superman in a post-9/11 world.

Unfortunately, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice did not capitalize on that. In fact, Dawn of Justice was a mess. It played with the dichotomy of how the modern public might see superheroes, ranging from gods to fear-inspiring menaces. It introduced a seasoned and jaded Batman who found a mission in putting Superman in his place by fencing in the Kryptonian’s scope. It introduced the meddling machinations of Lex Luthor who wreaked havoc by playing with forces that he didn’t understand. It also provided us a first look at Wonder Woman in this universe.

But Superman didn’t grow. He was just as aloof and dispassionate in this film as he was in his introductory piece, only gaining a sense of passion and duty toward the human race in the moments before his death (by an overpowered enemy that felt like a last-minute thought more than a natural progression). Meanwhile, Batman’s character was reduced to one of single-minded paranoia-driven reprisals. He did some detective work, which was nice, but that was offset by him becoming that which he swore to defeat by committing theft and murdering so many people in the course of two and a half hours.

Add in the convoluted political plot and the disjointed flashes of DC Comics lore that excited die-hards but confused general audiences – Batman’s visions of a post-apocalyptic world where a vengeful Superman reigns, a time-traveling Flash, and Lex’s remote-learning session with Steppenwolf about the Mother Boxes were true head-scratchers for my non-comics-versed family and friends – and you end up with a muddled experience. There was just too much to cover in the time allotted.

When Justice League came along, Joss Whedon (despite all of his recently-revealed faults) was a welcome addition. His impact on the screenplay was evident with the lighter mood and tone, leaving the story equipped to deal with heavy matters like conflicts within the fledgling team, resurrecting Superman, and saving the world from certain destruction. Barry Allen cracked wise, Bruce Wayne was a detective, and Superman was a caring and emotional paladin again. One of my favorite moments was Aquaman’s heartfelt lasso-induced testimonial.

It was a superhero film that I could cheer with again.

While the circumstances surrounding Snyder’s departure were tragic, Joss Whedon saved this film for me, with the minor sin of using the John Williams and Danny Elfman themes too much in hope of smashing the nostalgia button for fans.

Joss Whedon’s Justice League is why Zack Snyder’s four-hour-long version of this story is not compelling.

But don’t let Zack Snyder hear you talking that way about his magnum opus…

First, while I’m not a fan of Scott Mendelson, this shot was not necessary: Learn to take some criticism, bro.

Second, I definitely disagree with Snyder on his vision of “grownup” cinema. The difference between movies for kids and adults isn’t simply the injection of violence and nihilism. Adults understand humor and hope leagues more than Zack Snyder gives them credit.

 

Other FanDome DC film news

The Flash: Barry Allen has a new costume, the Flash will be time-traveling, and there is the promise of multiverse meddling with a tease of Michael Keaton’s 1989 Batman.

Black Adam: I’m glad to see that this is still on the radar. I’m also glad to see (along with the portrayal in Stargirl) that the Justice Society of America is getting more love.

Aquaman 2: Director James Wan mentioned that this flick will be “a little bit more serious, a little bit more relevant to the world that we’re living in today”, which is good considering how superficial the first one was. Fun, but superficial.

Shazam: Fury of the Gods: I’m looking forward to this sequel. The first one was down-to-Earth wholesome comic book fun.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

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.