Monday, 25 July 2011

Reaction: LEGO Super Heroes

The new LEGO Super Heroes line combines the two biggest names in comics' most popular titles... and few would have predicted LEGO selling both DC and Marvel characters at the same time. Yet here we are. So what does it mean for our construction toys? Why now? And what is the tasty rumour about the new line?

It’s hard to believe that a few years ago, LEGO didn’t even attend London Toy Fair to sell their range to retailers. Especially given that now LEGO visit Comic Con to sell exclusives and make a host of announcements – just like the other big toy manufacturers. The reasoning for LEGO’s new presence at Comic Con makes sense when looked at with their changed business model. Over the past ten years LEGO have dabbled in licensed properties, and Comic Con is the place to go and promote them.

The big announcement for 2011 Comic Con made a lot of sense for this convention – the clue is in the title. As it was Comic Con, the big reveal was the introduction of LEGO’s new Super Heroes line, which will encompass the heroes of both DC Comics and Marvel. At the event LEGO unveiled mini-figures of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, the Hulk and Captain America.

Returning to the comic book heroes makes sense for LEGO right now. LEGO Batman is the company’s best-selling video game, even though the LEGO Batman line of toys was not terribly successful. Since then, the toys have shot up in value in the same way as retired Star Wars sets. In terms of value, it has shot up even past the level of how LEGO usually appreciates. So there’s clearly a desire for the bat. Likewise, LEGO Spider-man ended its run and went over to Mega Bloks only for the secondary prices to shoot up.

The benefit of having a LEGO Super Heroes line is that unlike Batman, there’s plenty of variety to be had. In the case of Batman, there are only a handful of recognisable locations and vehicles that children will be aware of, that have appeared in multiple versions of the Batman story. There’s obviously the Batcave, the Batmobile, Arkham Asylum… but once you get beyond these, the line ends up looking like the LEGO Batman line did; lots of variations on black vehicles with different villain mini-figures. With the new Super Heroes line, these iconic Batman sets can happen but sprinkled in more sparingly with other classic characters. It also allows LEGO to release a few sets to coincide with a film release but without having to commit to an entire line.

What really did surprise many was the announcement that it won’t just be DC’s Super Heroes that will be part of the line, but Marvel’s too. Initially I found this odd, as having the two biggest comic publishers selling their toys under the same banner seemed unlikely. As competitors, I would not have expected them to both sell licences to LEGO. Yet it’s happened, and what perhaps could explain it is that at this moment either company would be crazy not to be buildable in LEGO. And if DC were to have LEGO available, and Marvel didn’t, that would be a lot of exposure that Marvel were missing out on.
So far, the official announcement tantalises by only revealing the mini-figs shown, the Bat Cave, and the action figure style sets. One thousand Batman, Superman and Green Lantern mini-figures were sold on exclusive cards. Next year, when the line kicks off, the first wave of sets will be based on DC Comics and the second based on Marvel properties. It will likely be a good year for both, with The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers expecting to sell a lot of cinema tickets. How long does anyone expect it to be before a LEGO Super Heroes video game gets announced?

But until we hear whether or not there’s a video game for this line, there’s a very tasty rumour that this will be the first time licenced figures appear in the collectable Mini-figures line. There will be an entire series dedicated to LEGO Super Heroes early next year.

With LEGO having re-asserted itself and having consistent success again, now seems the perfect time to try again at taking on the comic book theme. LEGO are undoubtedly making a heroic effort with the two major publishers, a big Comic Con push, a series of Mini-figures and no doubt more to come. But licenced properties have been notoriously hit-and-miss, and only Star Wars has had staying power for LEGO. So for how long will Batman, Spider-man and co prevail?

Comic Con images courtesy of Hinckley at Eurobricks.

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