From what I can gather online, Superman vs Spider-Man seems to have taken place first in Metropolis, then in New York — which is a bit of a fix as I believe Metropolis and Gotham effectively replaced NYC in the DC Universe until recently, when Gotham was retconned to NJ, Metropolis to Delaware, and NYC reinstated as an entirely separate city.
What the second toy advertisement seems to me to introduce well before its appearance in comic books is the idea of a multiple-character crossover. The penultimate shot shows Captain America, Captain Marvel and Robin,so there are seven characters here from the two universes — I don’t know if such a large-scale team-up across DC and Marvel happened in official continuity until the DC vs Marvel event of 1996, which led to a series of “amalgam” comics.
The early issues of Warren Ellis’ “Planetary” series also feature teams from the different franchises in conflict, though because of copyright issues he has to portray them as immediately-recognisable archetypes or analogues.
That is a great point, Will. Thanks! The earliest Mego commercials that I found featuring characters from both universes actually dates back to 1976, so I wonder if a joint toy line release was part of both company’s strategizing (this becomes a bit of a chicken and egg question though).
What’s somewhat different here from most trans-universe crossovers (I cannot speak specifically to Superman/Spiderman) is that the comic books usually emphasized that one or both characters had wandered into an alternate universe, whereas these commercials make no such distinction (other than possibly children’s shared play fantasies).
It may be worth pointing out that Marvel and DC had established precedent for a cross-over in 1976 with Superman vs Spider-Man, so the possibilities for trans-universe interaction between other characters (Batman and Hulk, for instance) were officially established by then.
That is, I wonder Destro, who’s got a plan and is an evil man, the terrifying enemy of G I Joe, is just a fantastical (super)villain rather than having any kind of political connotations, and whether G I Joe represents any form of propaganda for the actual US Army, or whether, again, he’s just a vaguely do-gooding generic hero.
I wonder if “America’s Army”, the game designed to boost recruitment to the US military, and (according to Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture) aiming to become a cross-platform franchise, is at all comparable.
Great piece, Derek! Being the comic book fan that I am, I just went back and browsed through Marvel’s G.I. Joe #1, expecting to see lots of ads for G.I. Joe merchandise. There were none (in fact there are no overt ads at all in the comic). What I found instead were several splash page “profiles” of G.I. Joe weapons (the MOBAT tank and the Heavy Artillary Laser) and characters (Scarlett, Breaker, Flash, Stalker). These items, which I’m fairly certain were available for purchase at a store near you, are cleverly coded as “top secret case files” that readers gained access to through the comic, bonus materials if you like. There is also a write in offer to join the G.I. Joe Mobile Strike Force Team, which, in exchange for $5, gave you a membership kit containing G.I. Joe dog tags, a military web belt, a wall poster, an iron-on emblem, and an annual letter with special offers, all courtesy of Hasbro. All of this seems to suggest a marketing strategy built around inculcating investment in the G.I. Joe storyworld as a precursor to buying an endless supply of merchandise.
fascinating piece, Henry. In reading your comment and watching these commercials, I’m reminded of how certain children’s properties like the Lone Ranger shifted their rhetoric in the postwar era from teaching children appropriate civic behaviors to how to be good little consumers. While the Lone Ranger toy world encouraged fantasy play, dozens of articles and press materials were generated emphasizing the Lone Ranger’s “miraculous” ability to cure young children of psychological afflictions related to non-consumption In one case, the Lone Ranger visited a hospital and convinced a child to eat solid foods for the first time in three years by giving him a set of Lone Ranger dishes. The key here being that merchandise enables more consumption (while perhaps also hinting at fears that children were being ill served by all this permissiveness)
As to your question about how discursive constructions of contemporary children and appropriate parenting shape toy advertisements, I think we are once again in a backlash era, where toys are being marketed in ways that clearly delineate gender identities (Tonka’s “Boys are just different” commercials come to mind). At the same time, there is a kind of embodiment logic at play where children can experiment with other identities through dressing up or playing a video game, so perhaps we need to see toy commercials as playing out complex tensions over destabilization and performance?
This is a fascinating piece, Derek. The first clip in particular, seems to transition rather surprisingly into an ad for the comic - I was thinking that it could just as easily serve as a promotion for the animated series, but I’m guessing that these ads predate the 1980s cartoon. Did these ads replace any attempts by Hasbro to conform to FCC regulations with live action ads that showcased toy size and mobility? Or did Hasbro continue to run more direct advertisements for the toy line alongside these almost-cartoons? I’m curious as to how much Hasbro was invested in this comic-ad strategy as part of the evolution of the character/brand versus as a regulatory loophole.
Will and Derek, I think you’re both making key points that get to the heart of what isn’t covered in this news piece. Since Disney launched this repackaging effort, the girls’ toy market has been dominated by various types of princess play. In 2006, Disney reported global sales of $3 billion, and that jumped to $4 billion in 2007. Mattel’s Barbie sales have been in a relative slump over the past decade or so, but Barbie “Princess” gear, introduced a couple of years ago, outsells other Barbie products (by about 4 to 1, according to some estimates). Club Libby Lu, where little girls get princess makeovers, launched in 2000 and now operates more than 80 stores. Princesses have always been popular, and princess-related toys have always been on the market - but is it possible to say that the current consumer trend is driven solely by corporate branding efforts? I’m not saying that there’s a legitimate “princess effect,” but I think that some other factors must be driving consumer demand besides product availability.
So, the idea of a (mild) moral panic, or a form of light controversy, creates a “story” that’s basically a revisionist history along the lines of “Disney has inspired little girls to play princesses (TM)”, and a convenient reminder about the merchandise.
Next: some educational experts have expressed concern that the new Iron Man range of toys from Mattel, starting at only £4.99 and including an exciting light-up mask plus rocket-pack accessories, could potentially encourage what is being dubbed the “Iron Man” craze among little boys.