Todd McFarlane goes inside his new Batman design and what's next with his DC partnership

Todd McFarlane's Batman
(Image credit: McFarlane Toys/DC)

It's been one full year since Todd McFarlane acquired the DC license for his company, McFarlane Toys. In that time he's produced toys based on Wonder Woman 1984, Justice League Action, Dark Nights: Death Metal, and more - but in a bit of a symbolic victory lap, this first year culminates with a new design for Batman by McFarlane himself.

McFarlane's 7-inch Batman debuts in Walmart stores worldwide this week, and has sparked the idea of more McFarlane-designed DC characters on the horizon - and perhaps these even making their way back to comic books.

Newsarama reached out to McFarlane to speak about his Batman redesign, the idea of more, and how his relationship with DC is going - and how it might even expand to comics.

Newsarama: Todd, it's been a year since you acquired the DC license at McFarlane Toys. We're here now one year later, and in sort of a celebratory act you're designing your own Batman from the ground up. Did you ever think you'd be able to do something like this? 

Todd McFarlane: No, but that just shows my age more than anything else. 

When I broke into comics, there was only one Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, what have you, and now the vogue is several things of this one thing. I'm just joining the party a little bit late I guess. 

(Image credit: McFarlane Toys)

Nrama: What was your inspiration for this Batman design?

McFarlane: It was all from the toy perspective, right? I knew it was a leap of faith on their part to let me do it so I didn't want to get too radical right out of the gate and shock them so they wouldn't let me do it again. 

I wanted to keep all the key elements and components that most people would consider to be part of Batman visuals, then just add a layer of cool on top of that. It's different than saying I just want a robot Batman! So I asked if I could add some cool detail and that was that.

Nrama: When you were designing and drawing this, did you think about how easy or hard it might be for an artist to draw this panel after panel, page after page, in a comic?

McFarlane: Nope. And here's why. If I was told by them, "Hey, Todd, can you design something for a comic book?" that is going to be a whole different design. 

This was just a guy having to look cool on a shelf. That's what was driving me. 

If somebody wants to put it in a comic, that's where it gets to be a little more complicated. 

Nrama: Going along that line - what would it take for you and DC perhaps explore this more in a comic book series, a la Todd McFarlane's Batman or something?

(Image credit: McFarlane Toys/DC)

McFarlane: I don't know. In all honesty, I don't know where the legalities of that work. Obviously, Batman is a DC and Warner Bros. character, and can easily say they can put that on t-shirts, comic books, whatever but I don't know. 

I wasn't thinking about that but, yeah, we've had the conversation. If you're expecting for Todd McFarlane to work for DC Comics, hate to disappoint but I'm the direct competitor.

Nrama: As co-owner and executive at Image Comics.

McFarlane: As a toymaker though, we can do a little more by the back door. Just cut me loose with me and my sculptures and we might come up with something cool that you can use. I don't know. Let us have fun! That's how I would do it in comics though. 

Nrama: Okay, you're having fun with this, and you're letting loose. What's a Batmobile or Robin design by you look like? 

McFarlane: I hope it'll look pretty wicked and people will be like "I need that for my collection!"

There are lots of people who have these huge collections of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman and they're so awesome. I'm sure you've seen some! I'm sure you have one! 

(Image credit: McFarlane Toys/DC)

Nrama: I do, yeah. 

McFarlane: See? You'll see these shelves of like 50 to 100 different types of Superman. What looks super cool to me is that it's all the same character. So given that I assume that most ardent collectors have those big three characters, all with their classic look possibly ad nauseum - we're doing the characters that not everybody might have gotten. 

But I hear two different types of fans. One being well we've already got these kinds of Batman, give us something different with Batman. I think some of those variations are really great, too. Some are really impressive. 

The other fan goes "Todd, all you've done is Batman, give us something else!" 

The thing is though I don't consider those other characters to be Batman. Conceptually, yeah, I get it; especially if you're a comic book fan. 

Again, though, I'm looking at them as a toymaker. When I see some of those designs they don't look like Batman... they look like cool characters. 

Nrama: I disagree, though. I feel like those characters are Batman with different powers. That's the whole point of the story, right? It's still Batman. Just because he can run like the Flash now, that's just Batman with the Flash's powers. You don't even have a Green Lantern outside the Animated Series line. 

I'm not saying you don't feel a void or a need for certain collectors, but speaking for myself, something to break this up would be nice. I mean there are only three women characters in this entire series so far: Batgirl and the two Wonder Woman figures. 

It's your company and obviously, you can do whatever the hell you want, but what do you say to those fans who are getting 1,000 Batmans but just want their one favorite?  

(Image credit: McFarlane Toys/DC)

McFarlane: Well you're getting your Green Lantern. John Stewart. In the standard McFarlane style. He looks really cool. 

I mean again, we'll fill in the spaces. This is interesting because we have a big wide brand. I look at them as sort of the sports figures back in the day and not do what I'm about to say and they failed very quickly.

If you do the all-stars in your first series or your second series, then very quickly you're asking yourself what's next because you've already done the big ones. So when we were doing McFarlane Sports, I used to put the stars into three buckets: Bucket A, Bucket B, and Bucket C. We would come up with six figures in a line and our rule was two As, two Bs, and two Cs. Now, the As sold because they were the biggest stars. You can sell Jeter, A-Rod all day long. Boom. 

Now you'd think the ones that didn't sell were the Cs, but that's not what happened. Cs sold because, for some reason, they were considered more rare. The Bs didn't sell, even though they were better players than the Cs, but they would sit on the shelves and they would be like the best player for Miami or Houston. Cities that don't have huge fan bases like Los Angeles or New York. 

Superheroes are the same way. If I had to do the all-stars at the gate, would people stick around? It's all about retailers looking at current sales and if I did that, could I get a second wave, or a third wave full of third-tier characters? They don't look at it like you or I do. So even if all of sudden the hottest character in comics is coming out in the next line, doesn't matter. So I have to try and keep a balance. 

Now there's also the conversation with Warner Bros., who wanted to do some thematic stuff, so that's where we get the Metal set. You're not going to keep everybody happy. Like you, where's Green Lantern? It's a valid question. 

Let me ask you a question though: when you see Batman melded with Green Lantern or Flash, can't that figure be bought for both the Batman collector and Green Lantern collector? 

Nrama: Sure. 

Like I said I agree you're definitely filling this void, but I'm saying just from my personal standpoint. But you're right, though. Looking back to how Kenner handled the Super Powers Collection back in the '80s, that first wave had six out of the seven Big Seven and we never got that fourth wave. 

I guess I'm just hoping we at least get a Mister Miracle or Big Barda out of you. 

McFarlane: Well yeah, just not in the first year. They're coming, though. I agree. 

Mister Miracle looks awesome as a toy. You don't even have to know who he is to know he just looks cool. When we get those B and C characters, a lot of it is just going to be "what does their costume look like"?

(Image credit: McFarlane Toys/DC)

Nrama: So speaking of costumes, DC has a slew of new characters coming out in the Batman universe like Punchline, Ghostmaker,etc. what do you think about them as toys? 

McFarlane: I think some of them have possibilities. The fandom is pretty vocal when you miss, though. Not every character is created equal. 

Thinking about the way back in the creation of the Uncanny X-Men, I don't know if I had ever thought that Wolverine would have been the guy that everybody would be swooning for. I might have been the guy going after Cyclops, the leader, but I have my team saying "Hey, Wolverine is popular, let's make him!" 

So if I miss one, we're going to get them out. 

Nrama: Wait, back up, are you saying you personally would choose Cyclops over Wolverine looking cooler? 

McFarlane: Oh no! [Laughs] I'm saying that in the beginning, you've got to do the leader. But, look, you don't put out a lot of Commissioner Gordon figures when there's a Batman movie out than you do Batman. 

There's a time where I have people screaming at me to do all these characters, and I get it, but just... they're not all equal. There's a lot of competition; a lot to choose from. People have to stop thinking like adults and think like consumers. Like eight-year-old consumers. 

Nrama: Okay. I'm a consumer, but let's say I don't know anything about Dune or Wonder Woman 1984 because the movie isn't out. What are you doing for those consumers and those products that pretty much lost all tie-in stuff. 

Wonder Woman 1984 figures hit stores, what, last spring? And we're still not going to see Dune until October. Are you able to recoup anything? How do situations like that work? 

McFarlane: Let's just say that having a pandemic was disruptive on a lot of levels. We obviously, not just us, that had products for every movie all had space for it at retailers. Then it got delayed. Target, Walmart, whoever, are not built to have empty shelves. Would they have liked to have merch without promotion, not really, but they made a commitment and nobody had a backup plan.

So now they had two options: put it on the shelves like we planned or we have nothing. So yeah, sales diminished because there wasn't a point of conversation about it. When it came out six months ago, there was no reference point, especially the armored version since it was created for that movie. 

We were planning on Dune coming out this past Christmas just like Warner Bros was and hoping it was kickstarting a franchise. The world had different plans. What am I going to do? Feel sorry for myself? It's an issue we have to deal with so maybe back to our earlier point, we could have put out more classical stuff so the schedules can even out. 

We all know there's a Batman movie coming out and it looks cool and I just want to be able to coordinate that when it actually comes out. Everybody has to recalibrate. 

Nrama: Can you talk about what you've seen from that Batman movie? 

McFarlane: It's been nominal, yeah. Again because they're about to start up again, not much more than the trailer already. Nothing like a big giant secret. For now, just concentrating on the core characters. 

The quick calculations are things like the Snyder Cut because we've been asked if we could do something with that. It's all about scheduling though, so since Th Batman moved back, there could be room for this. We just quickly shift gears and see if we can't catch some of that mojo. 

Nrama: Were there more figures planned for the Wonder Woman set or was it intended to be just the two Dianas? 

McFarlane: We always have somewhat of a deep line in mind, but not everything might get made. So while this was under the WW84 title, we might have had some other Wonder Woman looks planned, and we'll continue to do that with Wonder Woman, just not right now. I mean, they're letting me do my own designs. 

(Image credit: McFarlane Toys/DC)

Nrama: How often are you allowed to make your own designs? Special occasions or just whenever your schedule has the time? 

McFarlane: It's on a semi-regular basis. 

I keep saying that I think there's an audience for cool designs. They just look cool in plastic. Part of the conversation came in the beginning where I was almost joking,  saying "Just let me do a robot version of all your characters! Sci-fi versions, viking versions, whatever..."

If we do that, is there a marketplace for that and I think the answer is yes. 

So not really part of their steady diet, but something semi-regularly that offers enough variety for a character. 

Nrama: The DC contract is for three years, right? 

McFarlane: Yup. 

Nrama: What do years two and three look like? 

McFarlane: Year one was our initial year and it was both parties getting comfortable with one another and understanding what we both were good at and not good at. 

Then, having to figure that out and adjust on the fly because of the pandemic. Given that was our first year and there was a pandemic, it went well I think due to the circumstance. Now that we're battle-tested, I feel like we're better prepared for what comes next. 

You're going to see an expansion and range of products and price-points. Some things, you can't do at retail. 

Nrama: So does this mean exclusives? 

McFarlane: Yeah, that's what we're looking at. 

Even if Walmart or Target doesn't take them for their stores, we're pretty sure outlets like Gamestop will scoop them up. Hopefully, with Amazon, too since they don't have shelf restrictions. 

We're working on some expansions with DC that hopefully, Warner Bros can announce here soon. 

Make sure you read out expansive interview with Todd McFarlane on his career, his hustle, and his regrets.

Lan Pitts likes watching, talking, and writing comics about wrestling. He has mapped every great taco spot in the DC and Baltimore areas. He lives with his partner and their menagerie of pets who are utterly perfect in every way.