Judging by the packed-to-capacity room, it's obvious that a lot of fans come to Comic-Con International in San Diego specifically for first word on Marvel Comics figures. As soon as the panel started, the panelists assumed a familial camaraderie with everyone in the room, one that felt like it's carried over from years of panels.
The panelists present were Adam Biehl (vice president, Global Marvel line at Hasbro), Jesse Falcon (Director of Hardlines, Marvel), Dwight Stall (senior Marvel product design manager, Hasbro) and Maalvika Mantraprigada (senior manager, Global Marvel line), and they arrived ready to make some big announcements.
But first came a presentation of the company's upcoming figures, starting with a discussion of two exclusives, available only at Comic-Con.
"Multiples of you, for the last couple of years, have asked for the Thunderbolts, so we got an opportunity to bring you an entire team in one box -- one giant tower that doubles as a diorama backdrop for your figures once you get them home," Stall said.
"I've got to say, this was probably the most fun I've had in the short while I've been at Hasbro and Marvel," Stall said of the Deadpool Corps taco truck exclusive. "Working on the project was an absolute team collaboration to come up with this." Once the idea hit for packaging the Corps in tacos, in a taco tray, in a taco truck, Stall then had to pitch the idea to Adam Biehl.
"I said no three times," confessed Biehl. "They got me on the fourth."
The presentation then rolled through the 6" Marvel Legends comic book figures tying into "The Wolverine," followed by the 3.75" movie figures for Marvel's upcoming releases. New armors from the "Iron Man 3 Assemblers" line were revealed, including the Igor, Artillery and Neutrino Armors. "Iron Man 3" Micro Muggs are slated for release in August and a "Hall of Armor" collection of different armor figures, including a Tony Stark in workout gear figure, will hit stores in October.
"This is probably our most articulated, most detailed movie line we've ever done," Stall said of the "Thor: The Dark World" figures, to hearty applause. "It's a small assortment of characters, but we're very proud of all those extra details we put into it."
Next up were the 3.75" Marvel Universe figures. A peek at the upcoming Wave 5 revealed Omega Red, Northstar, Aurora, "Uncanny X-Force" Nightcrawler and Black Knight. Also shown were the final three-packs for the foreseeable future: Emma Frost/Colossus/Cylcops, Mockingbird/Hawkeye/War Machine, and Thor/Valkyrie/Executioner. Two new figures for 2014 were revealed as well: Grim Reaper and Hyperion.
Before moving on to the new figures for 2014, Biehl made a big announcement regarding the future of the Marvel Universe line.
"Marvel Universe is not going away," Biehl assured the crowd. "The Marvel Universe line is going to move over to Avengers." Biehl went into detail regarding the branding change, while stressing to passionate fans that the line will still feature the same mix of popular and lesser-known characters as it does now.
"This was purely a merchandising decision on our part, the marketing side... One of the things retailers do want to do is lean into the big entertainment properties. [Marvel has] two or three major motion pictures a year, three pieces of animation and amazing content, so we're going to lean into that… We're going to make it easier for retailers to merchandise against the collector SKUs. They're still going to have the high articulation and high deco, and Dwight [Stall] is still going to be allowed to bring out those characters you guys ask for year after year, we're just going to brand it slightly different."
"I know you guys like details [in your figures] and I know you don't like change," ribbed Falcon. "One of the reasons that we're making this change away from the term Marvel Universe is that when we first started developing products at Hasbro, [Marvel Universe] was a specific category that Marvel licensed… What Marvel does, and what a lot of companies do when it comes to licensing, is they refresh their license all the time. A stable brand like Marvel Universe has run since 2006, so it's about time to refresh it."
Marvel Legends will see a similar change following the completion of the current waves, which includes the Marvel NOW! version of Thor, Agent Venom, Tigershark, Radioactive Man, Moonstone, Songbird, Blizzard and Batroc. The Legends line will now be directly tied into Marvel's movie releases.
"This year, we did an 'Iron Man 3' Legends assortment," Biehl explained. "We actually started experimenting with this last year, when we did the movie-focused 'Avengers' line for Walmart… Going forward in 2014, all of our Legends assortments will be aligned with a major theatrical property. They won't all be movie-focused characters. We'll still do great classic characters as well."
The first two hitting stores next year will be tied to "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." The first Legends figure shown to the crowd confirmed that Hasbro is still dedicated to comic-accurate figures; a Marvel NOW! Captain America Legends figure will be included in the "Winter Soldier" line, along with Baron Zemo, Red Skull and an A.I.M. soldier.
Along with the rebranding of the Universe and Legends lines, Hasbro told the audience that they have reworked their variant release plan to ensure that all variants hit stores at once, instead of waiting for retailers to sell out of the first batch.
"It'll be old school," Stall said. "Being at that store when it opens because you know that as soon as that box opens, [all the figures in the line are] in there. You don't ever have to worry about if [the variant] comes out. It's out. Now it's up to you guys to hunt them down."
2014's Spider-Man Legends line will include a character fans have been asking for for a while, judging by the amount of cheering the prototype got from the audience: Black Cat.
"We've taken the Moonstone body [from the Comic-Con Thunderbolts exclusive], which most of you guys seem very pleased with, and we're turning her into the Black Cat," Stall said. He then addressed the future of the build-a-figure component of the Legends line, which packages one of multiple parts of another character with each individual figure. The last few waves have seen miniature build-a-figures like Rocket Raccoon, Puck and Jubilee, but the "Amazing Spider-Man 2" line sees a return to a larger build-a-figure: Ultimate Green Goblin.
The presentation ended with one last reveal, one that hints as to what Hasbro's third Legends line in 2014 could be: Star-Lord from "Guardians of the Galaxy."
With the presentation over, collectors lined up to ask the panel questions. Stall dared those in line to use their message board usernames instead of their real names, adding to the panel's close-knit feel, and everyone complied.
A request for a subscription service and build-a-figures for the smaller line were discussed, though both are unable to be implemented at this time for cost reasons.
"That's a great idea," said Biehl of a smaller scale build-a-figure idea, "but the immediate reason why we couldn't do that is we're trying to keep the price points down. That would drive us up a couple bucks, and all of a sudden our prices will be getting into the $15 range."
The question and answer session ended with an Aladdin cosplayer being put on the spot by the panel, who asked him to sing a few bars of "A Whole New World," a fitting end to one of the liveliest panels at the convention.