Arguably the hottest, and thereby hardest to get (or vice versa), San Diego Comic-Con exclusive of 2009 was the set of five Hal Jordan figures produced in support of the just-beginning Blackest Night epic storyline. Made by DC Direct and sold by Graphitti Designs, the figures were released one per day and the supply of each far under-reached the demand, causing many headaches, frustrations and enragements for every party involved. But more on that later, first we'll look at the source of the madness: the figures themselves.
Hal Jordan, the greatest Green Lantern of them all,
has faced many trials leading up to the war of light and the coming of the Blackest Night. As the power spectrum and their related Lantern Corps emerge, Hal must face the power that each represents and fight to maintain his own identity - and the power of the Green Lantern in the process.
The figures come in "book" packaging - it's a blister on a card that folds around the front of the figure and sticks in place thanks to a small bit of Velcro. The spine of each box has a different fifth of a "mural" allowing one to build the mosaic with each purchase. A very cool scheme, but one that demands a great deal of shelf space due to the width of the blister. The most aggravating thing about the figures,
however (and disregarding the buying process) is that fact that the blister is not re-sealable. Despite the rest of their (severe) problems, at least all of Mattel's products this year this year came with blisters that have "pop tabs" allowing the figure to be removed, played with, and then put back into its tray and closed securely as though nothing happened. With such "book packaging" supporting the build-a-mural scheme, these guys demand re-sealable packaging in order to keep proper width for the spine. Without it we are relegated to the poor-man's re-seal, which means only cutting open three of the four sides of the blister using the fourth as a hinge.
Each figure uses the same base body as the "classic" Green Hal, but with minor sculptural variances so it is effectively a repaint of the Superman/Batman Series 6 figure (though with a new torso, as that figure had a hole in the chest for translucent Lantern symbol projection).
The figure is an excellent example of the high caliber of sculpting DC Direct is known for. This effectively just a musculature sculpt, with only the neckline (hidden in the front by the jaw), the glove tops and the boot tops being sculpted details - the uniforms are universally painted on. The only real issue I take with the figures is that the bodies are sculpted in a very subtle - and awkward - half turn. This seems to mirror what happens to my torso when I physically mimic the classic "right/ring hand" raised to shoulder level pose in that my right shoulder shifts back slightly while the left comes forward. On one hand, I want to high-five the sculptor for duplicating such a subtle bit of anatomy; on the other hand I want to punch them for creating a figure that just looks weird in any other position than "right hand up."
In use amongst the figures there are two heads (Stern or Angry), two forearms (Glove or Gauntlet), and two left hands (with Ring or without). The heads
are used to match the emotion of the uniform in a general good-vs.-bad way, though the stern head doesn't match the emotion of "Hope" for the Blue Lantern for me. The gauntlet forearms are the ribbed/riveted ones made famous by Sinestro and used for both Yellow and Orange, whose hands are ungloved. The left hand offers an appreciated opportunity for you to display Hal sporting his normal green ring on his right hand or the ring for the Corps he's currently representing on the left (obviously Green is the only figure without this option and has a "normal" left hand). However, for Red and Blue, the ring disappears into the paint of the gloved hand (though it is a slightly
different hue) and just looks like somebody forgot to paint something. I personally would have greatly preferred interchangeable right hands, even at the exclusion of an accessory, but definitely appreciate the option for both ring colors and would rather have that option than only green (or, honestly, would have foregone the green ring on the other Corps' altogether). The basic breakdown is that Blue and Green are the same figure, Orange and Yellow are the same figure, and Red uses the gloved hands but the Angry head.
Each figure comes with three accessories: a stand, a lantern and a human-scaled Corps ring. The stands are the same slightly raised disk with a single peg
(for the single peg hole, located only on right foot) that's been used since DCD's Green Lantern Series 1 from several years back, released to coincide with the relaunch of Hal's monthly GL series. Each stand is cast in translucent plastic the color of the Corps with their unique logo painted on top in white. What's a little frustrating is that the logo is centered on the foot peg, rather than the figure whose weirdo torso twist requires him to stand legs apart. Basically you have to choose if you want Hal centered on the base and the logo askew, or the logo centered towards the viewer and the figure standing askew. An annoying fact!
The lanterns are repaints of the same accessory
that's been in rotation also since GL Series 1. However, the Yellow Corps has a new handle to match the look of theirs in the book while the Red Lantern laughs all the way to the bank with an all new, all unique Lantern.
The wearable rings are a super-cool inclusion because, really, who doesn't love role play!? They're all-new sculpts to match the modern look of the rings in the comics. A neat, smart, and obvious choice is that the finger portion is a universal sculpt, but each Corps logo is a separate piece glued into place. This should allow for a lot more variation than what we've gotten before, not only in Corps logo but also (I'm hoping) for translucent logo backgrounds. The same base piece is utilized for this year's giveaway at the DC Booth: a Black Lantern ring.
There is one problem, and it's a huge one: the rings are gigantic. I don't know ring sizes but these are designed for a stable of very fat fingered people. [Like most comicbook fans, maybe? --ed.] They feature a split back, letting them be "one size fits all," but few if any will need it. The previous castings (which date back to the very first DCD Green Lantern figure [which was sculpted by Tim Bruckner and was part of the "Hard Traveling Heroes" assortment that also had Green Arrow and Black Canary, also sculpted by The Man, and is the series that really put DCD on the map in terms of being a legitimate toy company serious about quality product]) were certainly on the smaller-finger side of things, but though tight, they still stayed on my finger. These new models even look awkwardly oversized on the finger. While a cool, and daresay requisite,
pack-in, they are certainly not the semi-discrete versions that you can comfortably wear about town to show your love of GL and embarrass your friends and loved ones.
Hal has 11 points of articulation: balljointed head, balljointed shoulders, hinged elbows, double balljointed wrists, T-Crotch hips and hinged knees. If anything is missing, it's definitely hinged ankles - I find myself regularly reaching to the feet for adjustment to assist in standing only to be disappointed. The wrists are on a rod that is balljointed on both ends allowing for a really nice range of motion and variation to posing, though not as good as the more common ball-and-hinge wrists.
The paint is remarkably clean, another trait that I find in common among, or certainly expected from, DCD product. They used a really nice flat black
for the suits that sets off the metallic sheen of the colors quite nicely. I wasn't terribly crazy about the metallic look, especially on the Green Lantern, at first but once seeing them in person and especially in a group at the DCD booth I completely swapped my opinion. These guys just make an awesome set and the paint is the main reason. However, it does point out some problems I have with the non-Green uniforms. I know these aren't necessarily identical or mirror Corps to the Green Lanterns but it bugs that Greens are the only ones whose uniforms A) sport a third color (white gloves) in addition to black and the corps-identifying one, and B) that every other spectrum's chest logo is black and white. Sure it looks good, but I want more uniformity amongst my... uniforms! The ungloved hands look to have a slightly darker-than-flesh color wash to bright out detail, which is cool, and the angry heads have very remarkable and detailed paint on the teeth which practically separates each tooth.
These were released as such:
- Wednesday (Preview Night) - Hal Jordan Green Lantern (3,000 pieces)
- Thursday (SDCC Day 1) - Hal Jordan Yellow Lantern (1,500 pieces)
- Friday (SDCC Day 2) - Hal Jordan Blue Lantern (1,500 pieces)
- Saturday (SDCC Day 3) - Hal Jordan Orange Lantern (1,500 pieces)
- Sunday (SDCC Day 4) - Hal Jordan Red Lantern (1,500 pieces)
Now, obviously the first thing to attack is the comparably low production runs of the non-green Lanterns, but the hardest thing to keep in mind is context. Last year, DCD/Graphitti brought two con-exclusive figures celebrating DCD's 10th anniversary. One was a repaint of the Kubert Batman
and the other was a retool of the Kubert Joker reusing the head and legs but with new bare feet and a freshly sculpted strait-jacketed torso (this figure is being repainted from blue pants to orange pants for an upcoming Arkham Asylum four-pack). Batman was produced at 3,000 and Joker at 1,500 - numbers which worried me a lot, but as it turned out, Batman never sold out (or perhaps only did so late on Sunday) while the Joker lasted all the way to late Friday (in fact I was able to simply walk up Thursday and purchase both with no line at all). Accepting that these two hugely popular figures moved at such an "acceptable" pace, I can see/accept why DCD went so low on the Hals. Especially when one considers that these are effectively just "fun" figures, because Hal spends little if any time in these variant uniforms in the books (to the best of my knowledge - I prefer trades to monthly issues so I am admittedly not fully current). I can see why they went so low and were caught off guard by the demand.
Conversely though, DC has gone out their way to make this the year of the Lantern, with DC Direct itself going as far as showing off four full series' of figures to support the Blackest Night event - a new record for them (showing four series before one has even hit shelves). Mattel is even onboard with their JLU Green Lantern Origins 3-Pack (which also includes a Hal Jordan).
Even Comic-Con's official 2009 shirt itself features Hal/GL. So my sympathy runs a bit short in this (brightest) light. In many ways DC Direct seems to have purposefully done this to Graphitti, and note that specific phrasing: DCD ultimately didn't have to deal with any of the headache. Sure, their booth faced Graphitti's and they had all five Hals on display, but all they had to do was direct people "over there" or get out of trouble with the plausible deniability of "we're not handling the sales so we don't know how they are/where tickets are handed out/can't do anything about it/etc." Even DCD god Georg Brewer seemed none-too-upset by the situation when he offered his sympathies to Graphitti at a panel Saturday evening (you could feel a certain smug shrug-off from him with a subtle smirk as if to say "not our problem"). But how did the thing go down? How did the reported 2,000+ fans end up getting the figures? Well, raffle of course!
Ever since the rotten days of Mattel and Hasbro's rise of con exclusive-ry, attendees have loathed this concept of distribution, and Hal was an all new low. After the mob attack on the booth that was Wednesday night, apparently SDCC itself and their hired security group Elite took control of the situation - by which I mean they simply created the concept of the raffle and moved distribution of tickets upstairs to the Sails Pavillion
(traditional home to Attendee Registration, Autograph signing and, of course, the Free Table). And thus stops their plan.
Wednesday and Thursday people were told to go up to the pavilion at the beginning of the day and/or mid day for ticket distribution. What this amounted to was no less that two huge groups and ultimately lines forming independently as fans showed up to get the tickets and were met by Elite Security members who had never even heard of a Green Lantern let alone tickets for toys of one. Finally, someone got their proverbial head out of their proverbial ass and moved both groups into single file lines using some of the signing queue area and then brought out two bags full of red, green, and gray tickets. If you pulled a green ticket, then you got a flyer with a return time circled allowing to buy 2 of that day's Hal at or after your time. If you got a red or gray ticket, you could leave pissed or get back in line even more frustrated. And that's how Thursday and Friday went.
And the best part was only 600 active tickets were awarded a day based on the assumption that everyone would buy two (the great majority only wanted 1 of each) and that they could have some extras to sell the next day (which would sell out during the first hour of the con forcing one to decide which line to get into).
Saturday and Sunday utilized a new technique of having only one ticket pull beginning at con opening and forming a line that wrapped through the outside patio behind the Sails Pavilion. I heard an estimate of 2,000 people
being in that line at one point (Saturday I waited in line 2 hours and 15 minutes for three pulls before I won). I talked to a guy who had gotten in line for Saturday at 3am, was fourth from the front, and pulled a red ticket, so you can understand how dire and desperate the situation became. And like motherf***ing vultures, the asshole scalpers smelled blood and descended upon the herd, beaks sharpened and talons poised. There's no way of getting an accurate count but my gut tells me no less than 40% of the people I saw in line were there simply to scalp the figures. Fathers were using their children to get extra ticket pulls (ultimately no one with a child's badge was allowed to pull) or to gain access to extras from the salespeople. By Friday the women at the registers no longer asked how many figures you wanted, they simply said "$43.75" when you stepped up, knowing full well everyone was buying the max two (and to add insult to injury, Graphitti was charging tax, a perennial hatred of all con-goers). It was our hobby at its worst, and ironically at its best.
You see, it was virtually impossible to complete a set on one's own so we had to resort to trading extras between each other which only brought us together. Those of us in line who were there for the figures, not for their value, were bonded in sweat and tears and more sweat (that sun-drenched patio was damned hot!). Both myself and my best friend only have complete sets because we found other collectors to trade with and that really made what was ultimately a sense of teamwork amongst all of us. So can DCD be let off the hook fully or partially for that "gift?" Hell no.
While some slack I will cut for the above reasons, I fault the crap out of them for under-producing product that they and their parent company's actions drummed up interest for. They knew they were under-producing and they laughed all the way to the bank while Graphitti, Elite and fans got the shaft.
These are really cool figures but the ordeal of getting to them left many of Green Lantern's fans with incomplete sets or no figures at all as they simply had no luck or gave up, because honestly, as neat as these figures are, they are not worth what we went through to get them. DC Direct and Graphitti could have made considerably more money by upping production to 2 or 3,000 but instead they decided to piss off their audience and screw countless numbers of them.