Column by Steve Bennett
Posted by Steve Bennett on April 28, 2015 @ 11:40 pm CT
The really surprising thing about the news DC Entertainment would be creating "a new super hero universe targeting girls ages 6-12" (see "DC Launches 'DC Super Hero Girls' Universe")? It really is kind of a big deal. Warner Bros. Consumer Products, Mattel, Lego, and Random House are all on board to produce cartoons, books, apparel action figures and fashion dolls. Also promised was an "immersive digital experience, original digital content and digital publishing." All of which sounds nice, but naturally there's no mention of there being any actual comic books, leaving one to wonder. Is this because in spite of all the recent evidence to the contrary the belief that "girls don't read comics" is still very much a part of Time-Warner's corporate DNA.
Of course, this isn't the first time Mattel has tried something like this. Coincidentally enough it was only a couple of weeks ago (see "Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--Magic Princess Time") I mentioned how back in 1992 they created Wonder Woman and the Star Riders, an ill-fated Wonder Woman-centric toyline/animated series based around a female group of superheroes.
This, on the other hand, is (in the words of a press release) a "comprehensive entertainment experience for an underserved demographic when it comes to comic book properties." In short, this is a brand new brand, one which according to the Zacks Investment Research site was instigated by Mattel because "the business… has been losing ground to electronic toys and tablets" and that "its Barbie brand has been experiencing sales decline for six consecutive quarters." And "analysts believe that the female superheroes would help Mattel recover the loss of sales from the Disney Princess line, which it will pass to Hasbro Inc."
So this is not so much about gender equality and empowerment as it is about branding, market share and money; lots and lots of money. That's pretty much a given, so the only questions really remaining is, is it a good move? Is it good for girls to be marketed to in such a gender specific way? Is it good for comics, as in will it create new readers of comics as opposed to just consumers of comic character merchandise? And, finally, is it good to have distinctly different younger versions of classic comic book characters running around? I know it worked pretty well for Marvel when they created their New Universe, but this is more than a little different.
As to what do I think, I generally, genuinely like most of the new costume designs, though I do have some qualms about Supergirl's. I know I wanted a more "wholesome" look for her but, a pixie collar plus mismatched wrist bands and off the shelf sneakers? Really? But for the most part, I have to agree with Scott Mendelson, who, in a piece in Forbes titled "Girls To Get 'Separate But Equal' Super Hero Girls Product Lines," he wrote "Girls don't need a whole new 'girl-powered' universe just for them, they just need to be included in the universe that already exists. The intentions are surely good and having this launch is better than nothing."
USA Today, "Female 'Transformers' come to the fore." This, naturally, is an attempt to diversify the characters in attempts to get more girls to play with Transformers, but it also appears to be in direct response from the feedback they received from female Transformers fans. Apparently (honestly, I had no idea there were any female Autobots other than Arcee from all the way back to what we're now apparently supposed to call "Generation 1," which should probably tell you the last time I took any real notice of anything having to do with Transformers) the abilities and personality traits of Windblade were actually partially created through the use of online polls.
And for a game changer like this, something with off the scale brand name recognition for millions of people, it's impossible to calculate the "freak factor," the number of people who will want a copy after reading about it in USA Today or hearing about it on The Today Show. As you all know I'm very often wrong, but I had to say, and I do, I'd say it will sell at least a million copies. It'll definitely outsell Secret Wars. But we'll know soon enough.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.