Will toy companies keep us from ever getting a superheroine movie?

Welcome to Postal Apocalypse, the only mail column on the internet written by a fake mailman from the future (that I know of)! Today we're discussing how toys affect movies — or prevent them, why DC seems determined to piss off everybody, and the best songs to sing around your apocalyptic campfire (besides "Every Rose Has Its Thorn", obviously).


Girls and Toys

Jesse M.:

How much do you think action figure merchandising would affect the chances of a superhero movie with a female lead?

Nowadays, EVERY superhero movie has to have a tie-in toyline, with multiple versions of the main character and maybe ONE female. Black Widow from “Avengers,” Faora from “Man of Steel,” Sif from “Thor”...and they’ve all been shortpacked and hard to find.

I keep thinking of how Mattel handled their “Avatar: The Last Airbender” line; a series filled with strong female characters, and not a single action figure of Katara, Toph, or Azula. It would be hilarious and disheartening to see a “Wonder Woman” movie toyline with ONE figure of Diana and several “Steve Trevor with Spring-Loaded Rocket Jetpack!” or some such nonsense.

Seeing as how important merchandising is to a film’s success, do you think Hasbro and Mattel are afraid of tackling a non-doll, female-character-centered toyline and do you think it plays a role in Marvel Studios’ and Warner Bros.’ decisions?

While Hollywood studios like to have toylines — they get some of the merchandising money and it helps promote the movie, too — toylines are afterthoughts compared to the movies themselves. Think about the Transformers movies, which are actually about toys owned by Hasbro. Michael Bay was still allowed to radically redesign all the characters, choose which ones he wanted in each movie, and then Hasbro was forced to base the toyline on Bay’s decisions. And Hasbro owns Transformers!

To be fair, Hasbro licensed out Transformers to get a movie made to sell toys. Hollywood bought the license to make a movie to make money, and the toys are Hasbro’s deal. Hollywood doesn’t care about toys, which is why Paramount had no problem delaying G.I. Joe: Retaliation by six months even though Hasbro already had action figures in stores (completely fucking over the sales of the toys, by the way). And in another example, Mattel’s Man of Steel toys were/are terrible, but that didn’t affect the movie from making serious bank.

My point is that if Hollywood thinks people will go see a female-led superhero movie, they will make a female-led superhero movie, and then Hasbro or Mattel or whoever can figure out what the hell they should do about the toyline later.

What would these companies do for a Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel movie? Well, honestly, the only thing I know for sure is that the toys, dolls, or whatever will be sold in the “Girls Toys” aisles, the ones with all the pink. My guess is that Hasbro would make a only few figures, more out of worry that Captain Marvel doesn’t have the cultural cache to appeal to girls (although the movie would obviously help), while I’m betting Mattel would actually make a pretty big Wonder Woman toyline, but they’d all be terrible and no one would buy them. This would have the inevitable result that the old men in charge of Mattel would think, “Yep, girls just don’t like superheroes” and screw over girls action figures for another decade at least.


Will toy companies keep us from ever getting a superheroine movie?

Bath and Body Jerks

Caitlyn P.:

Why haven’t you talked about DC’s Harley Quinn art contest in your Batwoman discussions? Can you think of any scenario where a naked woman attempting to kill herself in a bathtub would be okay? And what is DC’s problem with women and gay people?

Here’s the thing about HarleyQuinngate — which, for people who don’t know, started when DC held an Open Talent Search where one of the panels they asked participants to draw included:

Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.

With all the Batwomangate backlash happening, it was inevitable that this would only add more fuel to the fire, but I mainly didn’t mention it in my Batwomangate articles to keep the focus on that bit of insanity instead.

Also — and you’re going to need to bear with me a minute so I can fully explain myself — I’m not convinced this is going to be the most awful comic page of all time. First of all, the Harley Quinn comic will be written and drawn by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, who have a great track record with female characters, especially their too-brief run on Power Girl. I sincerely doubt if they’re going to objectify Harley (well, any more than her new outfit already does) in the panel. As for the suicide thing, well, they keep saying Harley Quinn will be a comedic comic book (how often do you get to say that nowadays?), and in the bathtub or not, I’m pretty sure the panel will be akin to like when Bugs Bunny pretends to be about to commit suicide in a Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s not great, but I don’t think it was diabolically intended, either.

All that said, though, this is exactly the sort of thing that should raise a red flag somewhere in DC’s offices. Someone should go “Hey, maybe some people might find a scene of Harley in a bathtub gratuitous, or maybe some people might find the suicide thing distasteful.” I’m not saying DC should be hardcore censoring themselves, but these sorts of things should raise red flags to someone in the editorial department. Although since Harley Quinn has recently fucked Deathstroke while he was wearing the Joker’s severed face, I can see why the bathtub/suicide thing seems pretty tame in comparison.

But an even worse idea was to use this panel in an art contest. Asking people to draw Harley Quinn taking a bath was asking for trouble in the first place, and with the suicide “gag” — well, it was so obviously going to cause a shitstorm even before Batwomangate that it boggles me that no one figured out this might happen. The fact that they never recognize telling people to draw naked, suicidal Harley Quinn as a potential problem — or putting themselves in a position where they have to say to someone, out loud, “YOU CANNOT LET THESE TWO GAY CHARACTERS MARRY” is insane.

I don’t believe DC’s intentions are bad, but the fact that they’re so blind to these obvious, easily foreseen problems is its own problem. Here’s a tip: Before anyone at DC does anything, they should go to the PR department and ask, “Hey, will this cause a PR nightmare?” It should save everybody a lot of grief.


Will toy companies keep us from ever getting a superheroine movie?

Doctor’s Fees

Rev. Michael Ball:

While reading "Morning Spoilers" I saw that BBC budget concerns may have something to do with the 8th series of Doctor Who premiering in Autumn 2014. I'm aware residents of that great island pay for BBC and they obviously make money on DVD/Merchandise sales. My question: Is there some way for non-British fans to contribute directly?

I buy a bit of merchandise, but I wouldn't be against donating directly. My thoughts would be a similar experience to a Jerry's Kids telethon or KickStarter. I know the fandoms of shows like DW and Sherlock not to mention all the other great BBC programs would love to feel included. Would this be something they'd ever consider?

I'm aware some of the money I pay for cable and merchandise goes to them. I'd imagine the percentage of useful money they receive is low when it comes to future funding.

Other than buying all the DVDs and merchandise you can get your hands on — okay, other than that and moving to the U.K. and paying for the television licensing fee — there’s no other way to give the BBC your money. They’re a government-sponsored, public service broadcaster, but they don’t have fund drives like PBS because literally everyone in the U.K. with a TV pays a yearly fee that covers most of their costs. The rest of the money comes from selling their shows to foreign markets, licensing their properties to the same, and merchandising.

With all the money they rake in — did you know Dancing with the Stars is based on the BBC-owned show Strictly Come Dancing, meaning Dancing with the Stars also makes the BBC money? — in addition to that licensing fees, I have no idea how the Beeb doesn’t have a Scrooge McDuck-esque vault of gold somewhere. Every year you hear about Doctor Who having budget problems, and every year it seems like Doctor Who is more popular than ever, and must be raking in the cash. Maybe some Brits can explain what the problem is, because I don’t understand.

I do know one thing, though — Doctor Who sales are down due a great deal to the fact that the BBC is making less Doctor Who. Less episodes to air, less to run, less to sell, less commercials, less money to make, etc. So it seems to me like one obvious solution is to make a decently sized season again. I don’t know who’s decision it was to start making less Doctor Who each year, but I’m getting the feeling it wasn’t the bigwigs at the BBC.


Campfire Songs

Rockology Adam:

I’ve been spending a lot of time on a long, arduous pre-dawn commute lately. It has been the perfect environment to add some finishing details to my apocalypse survival plan.

I’ve recently been thinking about what kind of entertainment will be playing in my encampment. There will have to be something other than drinking moonshine going on, or people will go stir crazy. So, what should I make the inevitable band play?

I’m leaning towards The Dead Weather, a Jack White side-project that has the perfect atmospheric dark country vibe for the post-apocalyptic wasteland. A colleague claims that things that are too modern won’t be available, and that the band we can cobble together from people too useless to do anything productive, but too healthy to actually get rid of, will only be able to play the basic classic rocks songs that everyone plays around campfires (So, “Horse With No Name”, “Sister Goldenhair”, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Sweet Caroline” on repeat). My wife thinks we’ll only have sing-along hymns. What do you think?

I think you’re crazy. How many fans of a Jack White side-project do you expect to find after the apocalypse? How many fans of a Jack White side-project do you expect to find after the apocalypse that also know how to play instruments? I’m going to guess there won’t be many. So how are you going to teach them The Dead Weather songs? Are you going to let them borrow your iPod or something? The iPod that hasn’t been charged in 20 years?

Your colleague and your wife are much closer to the truth, in that most campfire songs will be songs that people actually know, including classic rock, church hymns, and the Top Forty Hits that were clogging the radio before shit went bad. I can’t tell you how many campfires I, the Postman, have huddled next to for warmth where the only song people know is Selena Gomez’s “Come and Get It.”

Also, what the hell is your colleague talking about “people too useless to do anything productive, but too healthy to actually get rid of”? People work all day, and then they have dinner and sing around the campfire. Singing in the post-apocalypse is a not a full-time profession… unless he’s planning on having a band full-time because he’s going to turn into a ruthless dictator when the apocalypse hits, subjugating all he sees to his will, where all slave for his benefit. Watch out for that guy. And learn an instrument, because playing “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is going to be a lot more fun than farming.


Will toy companies keep us from ever getting a superheroine movie?

The Best Book You’ll Ever Play

Chuck S.:

Dear Postman,

How do traditional narrative structures work in video games?

Think about it, the stories in them are largely adherent to the basic structure of storytelling in that they have clear rising tension, a climax, and falling action. Most of them feel like they're meant to be consumed in one sitting, while the long form nature of video games (and the sad fact that most of us don't have a lot of time on our hands) allows for short gameplay sessions, not to mention the fact that dying in the virtual world might even distance the player from the story even more. It's even more mysterious how traditional narrative structure survives in games like Mass Effect that allow and even encourage you to stray off the path of the main story! "Oh, the Reapers are destroying Earth, Shepard, but feel free to faff about over on the other end of the galaxy, they'll literally wait for you before they start the final battle!"

Despite me loving video games (especially the Mass Effect trilogy), I feel as though story structure that is more suited for something like movies just SHOUDLN'T work in games. They do, though, if the fact that games like Bioshock Infinite, Mass Effect, and The Last of Us are mostly celebrated because of their strong stories, not their gameplay. Are we as consumers encouraging developers to create video games with the wrong type of story structure in mind (less focus on a tight narrative or maybe a more serialized nature, perhaps) or am I just being overly nitpicky?

PS — (I apologize if this isn't your area of expertise! I haven't seen many video game questions answered on Postal Apocalypse, but I figured it still fit in the "nerd questions" category. Thanks!)

Well, my “expertise” on any subject is up for debate, but since I once wrote a 150-page college thesis on the literary merits of Final Fantasy VII, I certainly think I know what I’m talking about.

And I think you’re overthinking things a bit. The games you mentioned are indeed stories with gameplay in them — sometimes organically, like The Last of Us, sometimes separate but equally like in the Bioshock games which alternate story bits with shooting bits, and sometimes there’s a story that the player gets to whenever he/she wants to, like in Mass Effect and other various RPGs.

Let me explain: When you take Commander Shepard and his crew to go “faff about” what you’re doing in terms of the overarching story is merely taking a break. You’re playing the game — shooting people, exploring places, leveling your characters up — and experiencing smaller stories, i.e. side-plots. It’s just like pausing a movie to go to the bathroom, but on a grander, larger scale.

Admittedly, spending 20 hours mercilessly leveling up your game characters to be terrifying killing machines can put a bit of a halt on the narrative flow, but most players don’t seem to mind — hell, you yourself don’t seem to mind. As long as the story is well-told, and easy enough to understand that players can get back into it after said “faffing about,” there’s really not any problem.

And I will say that videogames have two narrative advantages over movies and books and other media, due directly to that faffing about: the length of time it takes to play a videogame and the nature of the audience/player controlling the characters in the narrative can make videogame stories more immersive. For instance, if you spend 40-60 hours playingMass Effect, that’s 3-5 full days you’ve spent in that universe — a universe you need to save. That extended time, whether you’re playing the main campaign or the side stuff or just dicking around, can build a stronger connection between you and the narrative than many two-hour movies can, and it certainly makes the inevitable climax more compelling for the player.

As for characters, well, let me use my beloved Final Fantasy VII for an example. I spent 20+ hours leveling up the character of Aeris, finding her ultimate weapon, unlocking all her limit breaks, healing her when she got hurt, and in effect caring for her, albeit in an electronic pet kind of way. So when she died, I had invested a lot of work in her, and spent a lot of time with her, so I felt her loss much more keenly than 98% of deaths that occur in movies. It was that interactivity and time spent that made me feel the loss so keenly, and its something only videogames can do.

I got an A on my thesis, by the way.


Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the postman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!