This past spring there was a a lot of hullabaloo over the lack of Black Widow toys from the Hasbro Avengers: Age of Ultron toy line. This was confirmed by some anonymous insider accounts and observation. In the massive crush of A:AOU merch only a handful even featured the Black Widow, one of the film’s most prominent characters;
Among the 60 items in the featured Avengers: Age of Ultron line available on marvel.com, Black Widow shows up only four times (on a video-game starter pack, on a men’s shirt, on a book cover, and on a shopping bag). Elizabeth Olsen’s new character, Scarlet Witch, only appears once, on a separate book cover, though to be fair, her brother Quicksilver also only shows up there. (To be clear, we’re just talking about these two shops –– Black Widow and Scarlet Witch products are available at Lego, Funko, and a number of other places.) Weirdly, popular female Marvel character Captain Marvel, a.k.a. Carol Danvers, does get an action figure on marvel.com despite not being in the film at all. Perhaps a carry over from an earlier script?
The crowning blow came when toy sets featuring Natasha’s most dashing moment—riding a motorcycle out the back of a plane to the rescue–were released, she was replaced by Captain America in the Hasbro line
and Iron Man in the Mattel lines
The lack of Natasha was so clear and pronounced that even her onscreen love interest, Mark Ruffalo, was moved to protest on twitter:
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) April 29, 2015
Now it is true there is a Marvel Select Black Widow, but that line is aimed at grown-up collectors. And as I myself Instagrammed, she appeared in certain Lego sets:
But still, Black Widow—and Gamora before her—seemed to be victims of the cold war mentality that states that girls don’t like action figures. And might there be a singular force behind this idea? Well, if you just read the piece by Devin Faraci about Marvel Studios losing it’s Creative Comitte input we just quoted, you might say yes. And if you guessed maybe Ike Perlmutter might be to blame, move to the head of the class, as Faraci notes in a throwaway:
(trivia: I understand the reason there are no Black Widow toys is specifically because Ike, with a background in toys, believes girl toys do not sell and thus vetoed them again and again. One guy was the roadblock.)
It only takes one guy to be the roadblock, or worse, but luckily, even the great pink/blue toy divide is beginning to crumble a bit, as girls’ love of nerdy things and entertainment is now firmly established. As you may recall, a few weeks ago so Target announced they were doing away with separate pink and blue aisles for girls and boys toys, or indeed, labeling things like bedding and building sets that have no gender bias as being for boys or girls. On a recent trip to Target I did still see action figures in one aisle and baby dolls in another, but at least the announcement that either was for girls or boys was gone. Although Faraci mentions Ike’s Black Widow veto, it isn’t clear if moving Marvel Studios away from him is actually going to improve the toy situation, as Ike has had a big say in Disney/Marvel’s consumer products division. Hopefully more modern thinking will control movie licensing from here out.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.