“Scribblenauts” star Maxwell got to do something in his latest video game offering that most comic book fans would revel in: play with the entire DC Universe. “Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure,” which debuted on Wii U, 3DS and PC last September, combines the puzzle elements inherent in the franchise with the heroes and villains of the DCU. Basically, Maxwell faces a challenge and the player can write in a hero, villain or object that will help him solve the problem. Not only has the game inspired a comic book and a series of DC variant covers, but also a line of action figures from DC Collectibles.
Appropriately called “Scribblenauts Unmasked,” the line of 2.25 inch tall mini-figures come blind boxed, which means you don’t actually know which one you’re getting when you slap down your $5 at the store. As an added bonus, each figure comes with a code to download the “Scribblenauts Unmasked: A Crisis of Imagination” digital comic by Josh Elder, Adam Archer and Ben Bates.
The first series, which is currently available in comic shops, online and GameStops around the country, includes Batman, Superman, Vampire Batman, Bizarro, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Black Manta, Joker, Deadman, a rare Golden Superman and a version of Scribblenauts star Maxwell dressed as a Green Lantern.
DC Collectibles has shown off a few other upcoming offerings like Bane, Blue Beetle and Sinestro, but the potential for this brand is huge, so says DC Collectibles Vice President of Creative Services Kevin Kiniry and Design Director Jim Fletcher. Both huge fans of DC’s table of characters, Kiniry and Fletcher spoke with CBR News about picking the figures for the line, why they decided to go blind box and what character from the game spawned the whole endeavor.
CBR News: Gentlemen, after moving DC Collectibles operations from New York to California a few years back, your team has been able to get a look at video games like “Scribblenauts Unmasked” earlier in the process. When you saw this game, were you instantly thinking of collectible options?
Kevin Kiniry: What’s really great about being out here and so close to the WB Games group and all the other WB divisions is when they are working on something related to our characters, we’re much more likely to see some of the development of it than we might have been when we were further away. In the case of “Scribblenauts,” we saw some of the flat, 2D art of the characters. They were starting to develop them because we were also working on giving them a list of characters. There’s thousands and thousands of them, and they were starting to turn out looks of them. I’ll never forget this — Jim and I were in his office and he had just gotten a delivery of some of the art and one of the ones that made us stop was Black Manta. In 2D form from “Scribblenauts,” this Black Manta is the most adorable character you’ve ever seen.
Jim Fletcher: That’s really what sold it for us. It was like, “Okay, let’s do these.”
Kiniry: That tickled us so much that we decided that we needed to do something with it. We didn’t know at the time what it was going to be, but we knew we needed to see Black Manta made in 3D.
I’ve seen a few of the figures, including Black Manta and Deadman, so I can see what you mean.
Fletcher: By the way, that Deadman glows in the dark, so be sure to shine a light on him.
Kiniry: We have a lot of secret thingies like that for a lot them, different paint [options] and things.
Fletcher: And Black Manta is actually like Elf on a Shelf.
Kiniry: He’ll just run around the office.
How do you select which figures get those addition features and paint applications, like Deadman’s ability to glow-in-the-dark?
Kiniry: A lot of it is what we can do for the price point because we’re still trying to keep things cheap. But it’s also got to be fun and fit the attribute of the character. We’re not trying to force them in, but in Deadman’s case, he’s a ghost so it felt right in that kind of kid-toy way to have it do that.
Fletcher: We almost went translucent but because he’s head’s white, it didn’t really work, so we went with glow-in-the-dark.
Kiniry: But then we went translucent for some others that really look great. You’ll see it as we thought it applied to the characters.
After you knew you wanted to do toys based on “Scribblenauts Unmasked,” what was the process like for nailing down this format, the size and blind-boxed format?
Fletcher: There was a lot of back-and-forth at the beginning because there were a lot of things we could have done with it, but we wanted to get a lot of these characters out there. We decided to do them in a small, affordable size and we definitely wanted to put them into blind boxes. It’s been a long time since we tested a blind box thing, I don’t know if you remember the “Who’s Who” line, but that was quite a long time ago. It didn’t do as well as we were hoping because there was some resistance at the retailers at the time. These are perfect characters for blind boxes. We’re going to go super-deep with these guys, hopefully. We just decided the more we could make the better as long as we could keep the price point down. There’s so many great designs we want to do. Like with Black Manta, the badder they are on paper, the funnier they are in “Scribblenauts.”
Kiniry: If you’ve played any of the game you’ll see that. They’re so adorable. Anti-Monitor. Atrocitus. Dex-Starr.
Fletcher: It’s unbelievable.
Blind box offerings have been picking up steam in the past few years, but what was your philosophy into going that route? Some people don’t like not knowing what they’re going to get while others love the thrill of the hunt.
Fletcher: I’m personally a big fan of blind boxes. The thrill of the chase is something we don’t really do with most of our other lines. It’s been a long time since we tried to do this.
Kiniry: We were looking at what’s going on in the market. In the U.S., blind box is being accepted a lot more than it used to be. It used to only be the imports from Japan where they could get away with it. Now you’re seeing U.S. manufacturers also getting that blind box out there. We still want to hold true to our authentic collectible nature and for us that’s mixing the blind box in with the really affordable price. You want people looking for it. You want these to be special, for these to be a community of people trading things back and forth. There’s something really exciting about that.
Fletcher: Especially when you talk about all the different ones and the variants that we’re throwing in there.
This line hits a lot of the sweet spots for collectibles. It’s DC Comics. It’s a video game. It’s vinyl-ish. It’s blind box. It’s got a low cost. Were you excited to combine all those elements in one line?
Fletcher: We hope so, there’s certainly enough characters to keep the line going.
Kiniry: I think that was a lot of our take on this. We wanted to make sure that these were in a really digestible format so that people could go deep and long for this. This doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to any game releases once the original game comes out. Like our “Arkham” franchise, we can just keep going with it.
Fletcher: That’s what we like to do.
Kiniry: I know, that’s the fun for us. You should see our brainstorm meetings where it’s just a bunch of us sitting in the room saying, “Who are the next 12 figures to do?” Our biggest thing is going to be making sure these get into peoples’ hands. We aren’t necessarily selling these in to huge retailers, but the good news is, Game Stop, which is a great retailer for a lot of video game fans, has taken a large amount of these figures so you’re going to see those by the registers.
Fletcher: What’s a big character you’d like to see?
I’m a huge fan of Steve Ditko’s Creeper and Jack Kirby’s OMAC. They’d look great in that format.
Fletcher: Oh my god!
Kiniry: You are like Fletcher’s long lost twin.
Fletcher: At Toy Fair we’re going to hug it out.
Fletcher: New OMAC or old OMAC?
Kirby OMAC, at least first. Then you could do the new one as a variant.
Kiniry: There you go.
Speaking of the characters, do you feel the need to balance out some of the less known characters with the Superman and Batman variants moving forward?
Kiniry: We do know that there are hardcore fans for anything Superman or anything Batman. Anytime you’re doing a collectible line you want to make sure those guys are celebrated because you’re going to have people questioning where they are [if they’re missing]. Do we feel the need to force them in every wave? I mean, there are tons of variants on all these guys. Even in the game alone there must be 20 to 30 variants of these characters so there’s tons for us to do, but we definitely want to hit some of the more obscure, weirder characters. We want to mix it up. Once the waves start coming out and we have a bunch of Supermans and Batmans out there, we’re going to mix it up a bit.
Fletcher: There’s a lot coming up. Like we said before, this can go so deep that there’s really no end to the characters we can do.
Kiniry: And there’s variants we can do. We could do a Kirby Superman or an Apokolips version. There’s a lot of fun variants we can do.
The Superman and Batman variants are even pretty cool this time around. Aside from the last year or two, Vampire Batman isn’t a character you see a lot of out in the world.
Kiniry: And he’s just adorable with his little fangs.
Fletcher: I love that one.
Kiniry: We’re constantly fascinated by evil ones so you’ll see a lot of that from us.
Who are some of your other favorite, obscure characters you’d like to see in the line?
Fletcher: You actually already picked two of mine. [Laughs]
Kiniry: You’re a huge Kirby fan in general.
Fletcher: And I went for Halloween as the Creeper. The new Creeper design would be really cool, but the old one would be cute.
Kiniry: For me, it was really hard because we had thousands and thousands of characters to look through. Once that game got going they translated, I think, between two and three thousand characters. We would just scroll through and every fifth one was like your favorite. Like, “I can’t believe they did this in Scribblenauts.”
Fletch: It’s every single character.
Kiniry: I know, it’s crazy. And they traversed all ages of DC Comics history all the way from the Golden Age to now so you’ll see a crazy Harley Quinn from pre-52, then the New 52 and all the different Blue Beetles.
Fletcher: And the different Atoms.
Kiniry: Everybody’s there.
Fletcher: We went through our Who’s Who.
Kiniry: There were some we had to check. Believe me, we know our stuff and we had to check one or two of them.
Fletcher: There were some I didn’t know at all.
Kiniry: Yeah there were two or three of them that were really obscure. We got excited by that. Seeing Aztek was really cool or Zauriel. There were a ton of them. One that I would love is Anti-Monitor as a huge figure. Maybe as a convention exclusive or something.
Fletcher: That would be cool.
Kiniry: Another fun thing that we didn’t really announce is that Maxwell, the main character from Scribblenauts, will be represented in the series, but as his version of a DC character. Some of the most fun things we saw were him as those other characters. He’s got that hair thing and the headphone things which mixed with our characters are pure comedy.
I noticed his general shape in the mysterious silhouetted spot on the box.
Kiniry: The Maxwell in Series Two is my most favorite to date.
Fletcher: We can’t talk about it.
Each toy comes with a code do download the tie-in comic. Was that comic a natural extension of this whole franchise?
Kiniry: It definitely was something that we were excited about as a company. When this game was being worked on and we were seeing all the great work going on, it kept us excited. We also know it’s a younger skewing audience. Our regular comics go to all ages, but really it’s an older audience compared to where the “Scribblenauts” game was. Doing the comic, doing these figures is a nice, fresh way to get kids into our characters. They might know about “Scribblenauts,” but do they know about these guys? That’s our benefit from partnering up with them and using our universe with their universe is kind of great. The guys at WB Games have been amazing to work with.
Fletcher: They’re a great collectible toy for kids.
Kiniry: Gotta catch ’em all.
Fletcher: Wait a minute.
Kiniry: What, nobody else uses that? [Laughs]
It’s nice to see something aimed directly at kids to give the next generation a good entry point into these characters.
Kiniry: And you’re going to see a lot more of that form DC Collectibles in 2014. We kind of started reaching different demographics last year with our “Super Best Friends” figures which hit the female audience and the “Scribblenauts” hits more all-ages. In the latest Previews they showed the Deadman DC Nation plush figure. So, there’s cool, different things we’re trying to show because part of our job here is to make sure everybody who is a fan of DC has something they can purchase even if they’re not the traditional action figure or statue buyer. We’re trying to branch out a bit and “Scribblenauts” is a great way to do it.
The first wave of “Scribblenauts Unmasked” figures from DC Collectibles is available now, with a second wave scheduled for March.