For years, Design Manager Reis O'Brien has been wandering around with an image of a loincloth-clad Batman floating around in his head. Unfortunately for Reis, Batman was not alone. The Dark Knight rode an enormous fanged hound that made the wargs from The Lord of the Rings look like lapdogs* and he battled an utterly ripped Joker who had so many weapons that he looked like he'd raided Conan the Barbarian's armory.
Wonder Woman was there too, biceps blazing. Scarecrow lurked in the shadows looking like a Viking nightmare come to life. And all of this took place in the shadow of a lair carved from stone. It was a fully realized world and a distinctly uncivilized one compensating for what it lacked in technology and modern amenities with brute violence and magic. The aesthetic was heavily influenced by the glorious action figure form factor that dominated the ‘80s connecting the figures to a beloved and highly-recognizable toy industry tradition that catered to both the desire to play and to collect.
The only problem, really, was that it didn't exist. But Reis wasn't going to allow a little thing like reality get in the way. He shared his vision with his fellow Funko artists and, in their spare time, they sketched and sculpted and dreamed. Senior Output Designer Isabel Anderson was among those early collaborators. “I did two sculpts for Reis kind of between projects,” Isabel described. “It was Batman and Scarecrow and none of this had been approved and none of this was going to happen.”
That is, none of it was going to happen until Warner Bros. reached out to Funko with a request for a mind-blowing new line with lots of play potential. And Reis just happened to have the perfect characters. Before his meeting with Warner Bros. he asked Isabel to print the Scarecrow and Batman figures they had developed.
“We kind of knew that we had them when they said, ‘Can we keep these?'” Isabel laughed.
While the form factors were undeniably consistent with Funko's Savage World line, Warner Bros. wanted a unique name for the new line and DC Primal Age was born. Batman and Scarecrow turned into eight superheroes and villains squaring off against one another. He-Man has his Battle Cat so obviously Batman needed Ace the Bat Hound.
“I was like ‘if Batman's got a ride, Joker's gotta have a ride,” Reis explained. The Joker Beast was born.
Of course, no respectable ‘80s toy line was complete without its crowning glory: the playset. “For the playset they said ‘Reis go crazy' so I did,” Reis said with a laugh. He, along with a team of equally enthusiastic artists and sculptors, poured his passion for toys into the Batcave, creating an homage to DC, to Conan the Barbarian, to the ‘80s and to play. No detail was too small. Recalling his obsession with a small lizard carved into the back of his 1981 Star Wars Dagobah action playset, Reis insisted on including the tiny reptile in the Batcave's design.
Artist Fernando Alejandre was tasked with creating concept art for the characters—a complicated process that ultimately required setting aside modern sensibilities in favor of a style established more than three decades earlier. Considering that the initial meeting with Warner Bros. took place less than a year ago, the art team was launched into a frenzy of enthusiastic effort to make the line happen as quickly as possible but also to make it everything they'd dreamed it could be.
“I kind of went crazy with Scarecrow making him textural,” Isabel said. “He's got these burlap textures to his face and I incorporated wood grain textures.” Not surprisingly, Isabel specialized in articulation for action figures. Despite attending school for game design, Isabel was playing with and even making dolls and action figures long before she started working for Funko, well before she had even graduated from high school. The fact that she's now helping to bring to life one of Funko's most playable lines is kismet.
“Since I was a little kid, I've been obsessed with dolls and action figures,” she said. “I always wanted everything to be tactile and interactive. On this kind of basic level, I think we all want something to interact with.”
When Reis asked Isabel to start working on the Wonder Woman character he made a point of asking for a figure that was strong first and foremost and Isabel was only too happy to comply, creating a Wonder Woman figure with pronounced biceps and quads. Sculptor Katelyn Simon took the lead on designing Ace the Bat Hound and the Joker Beast and Sculptor Lead Anna Chiknavaryan took on the enormous task of making the playset, although the entire team collaborated and pitched in as necessary.
Pixel Dan Enters the Pixture
But after all the love and care that went into the creation of the DC Primal Age characters and world, it seemed a shame to just send them out into the world without proper fanfare. CEO Brian Mariotti came up with an idea that would draw Funatics into the DC Primal Age story, creating a mystery for them to ponder and unravel. And Reis knew the perfect guy to help make it happen.
“I know Pixel Dan personally. I also know his reputation professionally,” Reis explained. “He is known as one of the most positive, upbeat toy reviewers out there. And this is his jam.”
For his part, “Pixel Dan” Eardley was a little nervous about being part of his first hoax. For the past 10 years, Dan's been reviewing toys on his YouTube channel, sharing his love of toys with the world. But he's a big fan of the concept of creating a mystery for people to solve, an opportunity for people who love toys to play. “You follow all these crazy leads and it turns out to be about maybe a movie that's coming out, which I always thought was really fun,” Dan explained. “I like when companies go that extra step to include the audience.”
Reis knew Pixel Dan would agree to help launch the hoax, but he also sent the toy reviewer the entire collection including figures, beast rides and the playsets knowing that Pixel Dan would not be able to resist the DC Primal Age line. It didn't hurt that Pixel Dan adores the Savage World line, loves He-Man just as much as Reis and adores the 5.5” action figure form factor.
But if Pixel Dan and Funko were going to team up to blow the toy world's mind, there would be no half measures. Reis' team bought a Polaroid camera and took photos that were staged to look like they'd been set in 1982. The premise of the hoax was that someone would send Pixel Dan photos suggesting that Warner Bros. had developed the DC Primal Age line in the early ‘80s before scrapping the project entirely. Funko Animation Studios developed animation to support the idea that there was supposed to be a cartoon to complement the toy line.
Dan would use his YouTube channel to release a series of four videos several days apart starting on September 24 and culminating in the revelation that DC Primal Age was not, in fact, an abandoned toy line but a contemporary collaboration between Funko and Warner Bros. Fans of the series could buy the entire series—including the playset—on Amazon.
“Other companies have done this before to a smaller degree,” Reis acknowledged. “We're taking it several degrees further, in true Funko fashion.”
Dan released his first DC Primal Age video with the words, “I'm Pixel Dan and I think, I think I might have stumbled on something pretty cool.” Fans weren't completely fooled by the Polaroids Dan presented in the video, but they were intrigued.
“new toyline coming up. This is a way to start the hype and its great,” wrote username dustin miller. Username idstealer000 commented, “Pixel Dooby Doo, you solve that mystery.” Username Sportimus wrote, “I like a good mystery! Shaggy, you, Scooby and Velma go that way while Daphne and I … oh wait, wrong mystery. lol. Seriously, I do think this is cool. The game's afoot. Wonder what this will lead to? :)”
In his third video on September 28, Dan shared concept art “from his contact at Warner Bros” culminating in Dan excitedly shouting, “Oh my gosh! Barbarian Batman!” Username Luke Baldock commented, “I love the video, I cannot wait for real toy line to be revealed.” Username superbatfan 03 commented, “These designs are cool.” And username Anthony's Arcade commented, “I want them all. I need them in my collection. So cool so rad.”
Between videos, Pixel Dan got to play with his very own full set of figures including the beasts and playset and had the opportunity to form some opinions. “One of the things I find so nice about the line is the quality is there,” he explained. “It's the type of figure you can pick up and it's nice and chunky in your hand and kids can bash it around. You have these larger than life characters that you can bash around.”
The state of the toy industry following the June 29 closure of the final Toys R Us stores has preoccupied and concerned Dan, which is part of the reason he's so eager to celebrate the new DC Primal Age line.
“I've been worried about staleness in the toy aisles with there not being a big toy outlet. I worry it's going to be the same licenses and the same action figures and the same cars and the same dolls,” he admitted. “I think what Funko is doing here is really awesome. I always like seeing the different things that Funko tries out. I like to see companies taking risks and trying new things because I think it keeps the toy aisles interesting and fun.”
In his fourth video released on October 1, Pixel Dan shared video footage from his contact at Warner Bros. supporting the idea that they were planning an animated series to complement the now-cancelled toy line. The footage was, in fact, created by the ridiculously-talented artists at Funko Animation Studios in the UK. By this point in the hoax, most of Dan's fans were aware that they were participating in a game but that didn't stop them from loving the animation.
Username Jcc2224 commented, “Whether or not this is a new property pretending to be old, unknown cancelled series, or if it's actually an obscure cancelled line (I'm leaning towards the former)…it's still pretty cool. That animation is REALLY convincing regardless.” Username Chido Collectibles said, “Definitely looks old school. This is more like a Barbarian version of the Justice League. Cool thanks for sharing, looking forward to more surprises.”
Finally, after a week and a half of clues and theories, Pixel Dan released the final video on October 4 with the words, “I am Pixel Dan and, alright, the jig is up … Primal Age is a brand new line that sort of is a ‘what if.' What if there was a line of DC Comics characters released in 1983 done in that 5.5” barbarian style?” At long last, the DC Primal Age line born so long ago in Reis' imagination, carved into existence by passionate artists like Isabel, brought to fruition by a partnership between Funko and Warner Bros. and brought to the public's attention by Pixel Dan's joy and love for toys was available for sale on Amazon.
Well played, everyone. Scooby snacks all round.
*Not technically true. Wargs will always be terrifying. ALWAYS.
One Character to Rule Them All
Design Manager Reis O' Brien's Favorite DC Primal Age Character: “King Shark's my favorite because I'm obsessed with sharks.”
Pixel Dan's Favorite DC Primal Age Character: “I really like Mr. Freeze. I've always liked icy characters especially if they've got translucent blue elements. Mr. Freeze's design in general really stands out to me.”
Senior Output Designer Isabel Anderson's Favorite DC Primal Age Character: “I love Wonder Woman but I also love Joker Beast. Wonder Woman was kind of my baby.”
CEO Brian Mariotti's Favorite DC Primal Age Character: “I love the Joker riding his beast. I just love the beast rides! The design on them is utterly amazing.”
Share your favorite character with #DCPrimalAge.