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The End of the DC Universe: DC Universe Classic Wave 20 Review

Mattel’s 20th series of DC Universe Classics sees the end of the long-running toy line as we’ve known it at retail. Rounding out our coverage of the final wave, we’re taking a look at super hero duo Hawk and Dove, as well as the final Collect-N-Connect large size figure, Nekron. The rest of this series has been kind of a mixed bag, but in the past a really great Build-a-Figure has saved the wave… is that the case one more time, as we say goodbye to DCUC?

It’s been a long, strange trip for Mattel’s DC Universe Classics– over five years, we’ve seen over a hundred figures in the series, some major wins for fans, and plenty of headaches and heartaches along the way. DC Universe started off strong, with rabid fan support at retail, lots of obscure, first-time figures added to the line for fan service, and an incredible sense of uniformity across the series, thanks to the heavy parts reuse and design skills of the Four Horsemen.

Unfortunately the line has also been plagued with various troubles practically since its inception– some of these concerns were really no one’s fault… production delays and distribution issues made some figures virtually impossible to track down, a problem that was only compounded when DCUC became the latest in a long line of scalper-friendly toy series being snatched up by unscrupulous EBay profiteers. Five years is also a long enough time that the line had to be impacted by ever-increasing production costs, meaning a drastic hike in retail price (this last wave is literally double the cost of Wave One)… Of course, there were other problems that were not as circumstantial, as well– Mattel’s insistence on entire waves being designated as Wal-Mart exclusives cost countless collectors nothing but empty gas tanks, lots of frustration and gaps in their collections which took years to finally fill.

Throughout all these troubles, Mattel has been consistently quick to showcase the positives and avoid discussion about the negatives whenever possible. After years of this back and forth between fans and Matty, increased retail prices and some strange character assortments (the less said about the Skittles Lantern wave, the better), 2011 saw a rather unique and unheard of collective shift in the fan base. It seemed as though virtually the entire collector community that had so devotedly supported this line had turned their backs on DC Universe Classics. Between this loss of collector support and DC Comics’ new focus on media-friendly characters and the New 52 relaunch, it makes sense that DC Universe would come to a close. Mattel obviously saw the writing on the wall, and used the last few waves of the line to round out some important teams and sub-sets (like Toy Guru’s much-vaunted Super Powers sub-set), and deliver those final few fan favorites amidst plenty of quick and inexpensive rehashes. The trend will likely continue with the budget-challenged Club Infinite Earths subscription series, but in the meantime I think it’s no coincidence that the Wave 20 C-N-C is the DC Universe’s own bringer of death, Nekron.

As I said earlier, there have been some waves throughout the life of this line in which a great, original C-N-C figure more than justified a few duds in the mix. Nekron comes pretty close to justifying this wave, which by and large is filled with fluff and fairly inconsequential figures– when Hawk and Dove can be considered some of the more “important” characters in a wave, it should probably raise a red flag. That being said, the bird-themed duo surely have their fans, and they’ve been around long enough to have earned their place amongst the Classics line. I’m happy to say that both Hawk and Dove are translated very nicely– Hawk’s determined grimace is wonderfully in-character, and the end result is one of the better “open mouth” portraits the Horsemen have pulled off. The hero’s iconic cape is executed very well, with a plastic just pliable enough for the blades to drape individually while still retaining an overall shape. Dove likewise looks as if she just stepped off the comic page, with her large-eyed mask and a very nice rubber shoulder piece atop the leaner, smaller-size female buck perfect for her petite frame. Hawk and Dove always seem to get kind of a bad rap among comic fans (admittedly, myself included), but it’s nice to see them get their due as a pair of nice looking additions to the DC Universe line.

Dragging the entire wave down is the utterly worthless White Lantern Flash. We’ve now seen a figure more pointless than Golden Age Hawkman, as White Lantern Barry, based on little more than a single panel from a comic book, features an even heavier grey wash than the previous White Lantern Hal Jordan, making the figure anything but white. While adding the Superman Blue lightning effects is cool for the speedster in concept, apparently updating the back-mounted lightning piece didn’t cost out as the middle of Flash’s back has a translucent Superman shield. This is an utterly pointless variant for Barry, based on short-lived (and quite frankly, pretty lame) source material, and it’s a reminder of some past lousy choices by Mattel to force collectors to bite on this waste of plastic for the Nekron piece he includes. But the worst part about this figure is looking at him in context of the end of the DC Universe line, and what main characters could have been released in his place for little no no production cost… we got White Lantern Barry. We could have gotten Wally West. And that just sucks.

On to the final C-N-C himself, all things considered Nekron fares pretty well. Of course the elephant in the room is his lack of his signature scythe, a very important weapon for the lord of the dead which is sorely missed here. Mattel has already commented multiple times they are aware of what a miscalculation pulling the scythe was, and I truly believe them when they say they are trying to find a way to get the accessory to fans in the future, so to harp on the point further at this point would be futile. The rest of Nekron is pretty good though– the overall look of the Black Lantern leader is very comic-accurate, while avoiding the “Spawn-like” look of DC Direct’s take on the villain, and he features completely original tooling. I love the open chest with exposed heart, the real chains on his collar and wrists, and the double-jointed elbows and knees, which were a nice surprise. Speaking only on quality, Nekron is one of the better C-N-C figures we’ve seen recently; he’s way higher quality than the phoned-in STRIPE and too-small Anti Monitor seen in earlier 2011. Even as a Green Lantern fan, I have to kind of question the relevance of the now-defunct villain in this toy line, although he was the winner of a fan poll to decide the C-N-C, so I suppose that’s another one I can’t really blame Mattel for.

Overall, DC Universe Wave 20 brings us some really good figures, bogged down by a few lazy repaints. It’s hard to get much more excited than that, though– even a fairly die-hard fan of both this toy line and DC Comics like myself has found it harder and harder to justify the need to have characters like Hawk, Dove or Nekron in my collection… as nice as they may have come out, they just don’t feel crucial to the sense of overall completion with this line. This wave overall feels like treading water, with a sense that while nice to look at, there’s really nothing new going on here. Maybe five years ago, I would have had a much different reaction to a wave like this. Maybe I would have been thrilled, my mind blown at the prospect of owning obscure heroes like Hawk and Dove and Nekron in plastic. I guess in some ways it’s a testament to how well Mattel has pulled off this line, that even arcane, cult fan-favorite characters feel kind of old hat now. Maybe Mattel hasn’t changed their game, so much as we, as collectors, have changed what it is we are looking for from the toys we collect? It’s an interesting question to think about…

When Mattel first announced at Comic Con last Summer that DC Universe Classics was coming to an end, I was instantly filled with relief instead of disappointment. Now that the final wave has been released and the line is officially done, that is one thing that hasn’t changed.

 

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