Q&A: Comics, New Movies, New Robots, and License Renewals Galore

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 5, 2013

Good Monday to you! My hard drive failed over the weekend, and I was terrified. Let's divert my attention by discussing Dark Horse comics and the thought of every year being a movie year really soon. What's the scoop with all the new DIY and hand-made stuff? Why is it OK? Or is it OK? All this and more when you read on!


1. With the announcement of stopping the clone wars and 1313 to "focus attention on ep VII", do you think the shoe is going to drop soon on Dark Horse comics? They are making some awesome comics lately and I would hate to see it stop.

While there's much speculation that Disney will eventually retake the license and hand it to Marvel, I have yet to see this in print anywhere - as of C2E2, Dark Horse confirmed at a Diamond comics summit that they have the rights through at least 2014. Since Disney will get money no matter who publishes the comics, it does beg an interesting situation. Do nothing, and you can cash a check. Bring it in-house, and you get slightly more control.

Should Disney need to blow up the Expanded Universe (something I don't think would be terrible at this point) I'd say they should start over in 2015. Of course, if I ran the show, the idea of buying Lucasfilm and having checks from licensors roll in while I have to do no work other than renegotiate contracts and have a few people look over things for continuity and approvals? That's a pretty sweet deal.


2. A Star Wars movie a year, every year, for the foreseeable future. That's a new angle we've never seen before. Disney is pulling a reverse Marvel. Instead of movies about individual characters leading to a massive team up - we're going to see Star Wars movies branch out in stories about individual characters. No more long waits.

What does this mean for Star Wars Toys? And how are Hasbro Marvel toy-lines released differently than Star Wars?

What it means is Hasbro will do what it wants, as the organization tends not to be consistent with how it applies a license across one line, let alone the entire company.

Hasbro has cranked out numerous Marvel lines based on comics (sort of like Vintage collection), kid-driven lines (effectively Saga Legends), and has both giveth and taketh away support for the 6-inch Marvel Legends line on a whim. Some years they make a bunch of new 6-inch figures, and other years they don't. With The Avengers and Iron Man 3 we've seen lines increasingly focused toward kids, with improved sculpting and inconsistent (but interesting) action features. Iron Man 3 has swappable limbs, but the wrist-mounted rocket launchers and limited articulation for the price is weak. On the other hand, movie Avengers had pretty good articulation with decent accessories in most of the figures. Marvel Universe frequently have limited or no accessories in each figure.

The only thing you can really be sure of is that if there's a Star Wars movie every year, unless Hasbro is giving up on the brand completely, there will be some toys each year. Will they be classic, or new? That depends on the strategy they decide on, and I would seriously doubt any new movie would come without a few classic characters in the mix just to rope in lapsed fans. Marvel movie toy lines don't get everything, but they get a lot. So far Iron Man 3 is exclusively Iron Man, War Machine, and Iron Patriot with no villains or other characters, but Iron Man 2 wound up having numerous classic comic armors, comic bad guys, and a really amazing variety of toys on a similar theme.

In short, Hasbro has gone in all sorts of directions for Marvel. You really can't apply this to a Star Wars strategy, because Spider-Man is all about Spider-Man while Avengers pulled in a few more heroes and villains into the mix.



3. RAD Droid custom C-3PO's, Sumo Troopers, unlicensed Star Wars t-shirts and art prints... what has changed in the last few years that we see these things and they sell through rather than quickly being shut down by a LFL cease & desist? I love the variety of things that we see nowadays but I recall the days when if it wasn't licensed you had to jump on it before Lucas Legal ended the party.

The Etsy era of fandom is a tricky one - the BBC isn't shy about letting people know to stop doing something, yet hundreds of TARDIS light switch plate covers are sold on eBay and Etsy every month, often by the same guy. I've noted that historically a company is more likely to go after something for infringement if certain words are used (i.e., "Transformers" or "Optimus Prime") than the look and feel of a character (i.e., a toy that is Optimus Prime minus the Autobot logo on his arm). This whole area is sort of new, but any fan of Transformers can tell you there's a thriving market of high-end transforming plastic robot toys that are in no way sanctioned by Hasbro, Takara-Tomy, or anybody. They also don't say words like "Autobot" on the box, they're very careful to avoid these kinds of markings and so far we haven't seen Hasbro really go after these dubiously-legal toys. I have yet to see any court case or consistently applied order telling people to stop, beyond BotCon (the official collector convention) letting dealers know that this kind of product is unwelcome at their fan shows.

So what about the Sumo Trooper? Well, if Optimus Prime's head can be replicated, it's possible the same holds true for a Stormtrooper helmet. "Trooper" and "Sumo" are generic enough that they may be able to make an item (particularly in runs as low as a couple dozen) without arousing the ire of a lawyer somewhere, although I assume anything made in runs greater than 1 with "Star Wars" logos on the box would hear from a lawyer sooner than later.

I've talked with people in these circles about other licenses (not Disney, not Star Wars) which are appropriated or parodied, and there have been a couple of schools of thought on this. One is "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Ron English makes super-fat figures which are clearly based on American food icons like Captain Crunch, but these are not always licensed. Matt Groening, on the other hand, licensed Bart Simpson to the guy and made a pretty decent figure. Two is "The Streisand Effect," which is this: if you sue a small figure maker, you're just giving them publicity, and in this field that just means you're giving them street cred. You're now a persecuted artist! Unless you're a big manufacturer, in which case trademark infringement is a pretty big deal.

Another avenue with non-licensed toys worth researching is Transformers. There are dozens of companies making upgrade kits and complete "third party" transforming figures based on older toys and characters, and they have yet to be shut down. Evidence says Hasbro doesn't like it, and they made efforts to keep them out of official Transformers conventions, but there are still companies making Optimus Prime toys that are so close, nobody would confuse them for anything else. They do not, however, include trademarks like "Transformers," "Optimus Prime," or an Autobot symbol on the toys or packaging. This might be a loophole, as Hasbro themselves gave the original 12-inch G.I. Joe figure a thumbnail on the other side of the thumb so they could more easily nab knock-offs of their uniquely marked and copyrightable mutant fighting man. (A tangent: these third-party toys cost a lot more than Hasbro's own, with a faux Springer toy costing $90 or more, and now an official one sells for about $23.)

I don't know if this hands-off approach will continue forever, or if Disney will see people making stylized prints as a pool of talent they can tap and hire for future official efforts. Everybody has to start somewhere!


4. I recently went to Disneyland in Anaheim and was very pleased to find they had the Build A Droids there. Apparently they got them in just the day before I arrived! I made about 12 droids, but was not careful to ensure I got all the different pieces (61). Now that I am home with some time on my hands, [snip - AP] I then tried to figure out how many different droids I could make. I am not very creative so I followed certain rules, like a white body with blue highlights had to have white legs with blue highlights. This is what I would consider a natural looking combination of parts. I came up with 31 different droids, but I had 2 pieces left that I didnt use. There is a black R7 dome and the white with black highlights R2 body. My question is, have you done anything similar, as far as seeing how many droids you would make with the pieces provided? If so, what combination of pieces did you use for the 2 pieces that I did not find a match for? Once again, I tried to be logical, so the R7 dome can only go with the R7 body. .

With the Droid Factory at Disney, my goal was to get 1 of every part. After that, everything was gravy, and this goal could be achieved (at least with the selection at press time) with 25 figures. I featured my builds in Figure of the Day over the last year.

The only "rule" I followed was "each dome gets a body," and each dome was a unique character. Sure, you can make more, but I wanted to draw the line somewhere and treat it like I treat the figures - each part is unique, but the number of buildable robots is so high it's not worth even thinking about.

So you didn't use a black R7 dome and a white and black R2 body? I gave the black/silver/yellow R7 dome to the yellow Astromech body, which was similar to the 2008 R7-Z0 figure from Hasbro. The white and black Astromech body goes nicely with any black dome, like the R5 droid or if you're feeling saucy, the R6 droid.

I saw this project as one that got expensive quickly, as just getting all 25 domes with a matching body would set a fan back at least $250. I could go on, but at this point I don't really have a good reason to do so - I can build droids from the parts I have and since there's really no "official" droids in this sub-set, I feel the parts are more important than their sum. Also, I'm really happy Disney decided to sell the parts at Disneyland as well as at "Once Upon a Toy" in Orlando. I've said it elsewhere, but my ability to enjoy a toy has nothing to do with your ability to not get it. I'd love this stuff to be plentiful and common if possible... as long as it makes sense in the marketplace.


5. With all of the recent layoffs at Lucasfilm and the changes that Disney seems to be making these days…do you think the Hasbro toy lines will be next on the chopping block? What about LEGO? Seeing all of these drastic cuts lately has got me worried about what's to come over the next 2 years until Episode VII comes out (if it ever does).
--SQL Jedi

No to both.

As of last year, Hasbro said they had the license through 2020. To my face, anyway, and if I misunderstood and it's really 2022, 2025, or something else I apologize. Previously it was set to end around 2018, as the last renewal at the end of 1998 was for 20 years.

As of February 2012, LEGO re-upped through 2022.

Marvel honored its existing agreement with Hasbro when they were bought by Disney, and I would assume they would want to continue along this path because a buy-out could be expensive (depending on the clauses in there.) Did Hasbro renew knowing there would be more movies? I have to assume so, but it's tough to say. Either way, there are agreements on the books for these toy lines which will most likely continue until Mattel or Disney or Warner Bros. buy either LEGO or Hasbro.

The main concern about Hasbro right now is that since 2010 the line has not conformed with its usual behavior (i.e., things are shown at Toy Fair and come out within the same calendar year). Since 2010 we've pretty consistently seen things shown that are delayed (Aayla Secura's vintage wave took over 12 months to come out) or never are spoken of again (Amp'd, Boba Fett's Speeder Bike). I should note that with Hasbro this is not limited to just Star Wars, as Transformers, Marvel, G.I. Joe, and even Indiana Jones had numerous items delayed, shifted around, canned, postponed, or dumped in alternate channels since 2009. In the 1990s, if Kenner showed something for Star Wars, it usually made it out. Except Power Sparks and nobody remembers Power Sparks.

LEGO seems to be business as usual, while Hasbro is... also business as usual, at least as the last few years have gone. It's just that now, unfortunately, the pain-in-the-neck non-US items are in our toy line rather than Batman's and I still can't get my dadgum MH22 Battle Droid or Movie Heroes Boba Fett figures.



So my computer was, as of my writing this, in the shop and I am horrified. I did not perform regular back-ups and the hard drive is the part that seems to be having an issue. If you're like me - and by that I mean stupid - please go out and back up your hard drives so you can avoid this. I managed to pull off some data (like this very column) before it went in, so thankfully you guys shouldn't notice too much of a blip other than my feelings of absolute terror at my computer not being on my desk. (Later addition: got it back, most of it was recovered - the stuff I did for you guys is fine, but my vast iTunes library was not and had to be recovered from an iPod with a few hours worth of tweaking to get it all back. And then it couldn't find about 4,000 songs. And then I had to do that more or less manually.)

Jakks Pacific announced its 31-inch Shock Trooper and 501st Legion Trooper to go with Darth Vader. "How can they get them so cheap?" some of you have asked - there's a few things at play here, like reduced articulation, reduce paint apps, and volume. These 31-inch vinyl figures often got sold into Walmart and Warehouse Clubs (Costco, Sam's Club) when produced by other manufacturers like Toy Biz and Mattel over the past ten or so years. If we as fans are willing to accept concessions with some features, sometimes, the price will go down. Obviously there's no way Jakks can make everybody at this size... but I thought the same thing when Gentle Giant did its Jumbo Kenner 12-inch line, and look at it now!

2013 Comic-Con exclusive reveals are slowly trickling out, and this year's best rumor-that's-not-a-rumor proved to be true with the Black Series Boba Fett with Han Solo in Carbonite. Obviously I hope Hasbro makes a ton of it, because the annoying hyperbole trickling out on Twitter and fan sites screaming about how this is the best thing ever isn't going to help any of us get one, plus it's just sort of annoying. What are you basing this on? I'm sure someone in Japan has already made a more expensive Boba Fett which I won't be buying. I'm also confident it'll be pretty good, but pre-emptively crowning it as the toy of the year is kind of obnoxious on several levels, not the least of which being getting everybody's hopes up too high. I'm expecting a lot of people to be angry when they get their hands on one because of some unreasonable expectation that'll form in their heads between now and July.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.