The Great MOTUC Debate, Part II

After the great response to my first article on the topic, I decided to round up a few more quotes from others in the collecting community.

First up is Emiliano Santalucia, artist for the 2002 MOTU comics and moderator at He-Man.org:

Poe: What’s your opinion of MOTUC, particularly versus MOTU 2002?

It really depends on what we’re talking about. How the series is managed and marketed, and how the products look, are different things. I will stick to [talking about] the products for now. Like many, I think [Masters of the Universe Classics] is probably what I expected [of the] relaunch back in 2002, and it’s incorporating many ideas and features that would have made the line probably more successful then. I’m talking about articulation, accessories, removable parts, and no pre-posed stances to name a few.

That doesn’t mean I don’t like the 2002 line, I love it!

That [was] MOTU reimagined, keeping the soul intact and I loved what the 4H did. But as products, the 2002 action figures were just not up to the day’s standards and trends. It’s interesting to note that the original Four Horsemen concepts had figures with more articulations. Unfortunately, it seems like there are still problems translating those fabulous sculpts to finished product.

As someone who worked with the 2002 designs as an artist, do you feel MOTUC is a step back?

Not at all, it’s quite the opposite for me. I mentioned the product improvement already and design-wise, [MOTUC is] sticking to what MOTU was. I don’t see nothing wrong with that. Instead of re-imagining the design of the characters, the Four Horsemen are just working on improving the original figures this time.

It’s just a different approach and, personally, I’m glad we had chances to see both ideas at work. As an artist, [both lines] are challenging and fun to draw. Lots of details don’t necessarily mean better design. Transformers Animated comes to mind.

Even the reusing parts can be seen as a necessary evil, but nowadays we’ve seen what miracles the 4H are able to make.

On the other hand, the communication with the fan base could be improved, as could lots of other choices not related to character design.

Do you think it’s a wise business decision on Mattel’s part?

I think it was their only choice. They burned bridges with the big chains when they managed the 2002 line so bad, so now they have to start from scratch. I admit going online only is a huge bet but, if the line works, Mattel will be able to go back to retailers with numbers to show the support exists.

Next up is yo go re, co-founder and chief reviewer of OAFE.net:

I was really excited when the MOTUC line was announced – I felt that the 2002 He-Man line was really hampered by the edicts of Mattel (which were all pretty typical of the company at the time), and I thought by going online-only and catering directly to fans, they might be able to get around those screwups. And yes, in some cases, they did, but overall, the line is a giant step… well, not backwards, really. It’s more of a lateral move.

One of the improvements? Articulation. Playing with King Grayskull is fun because you can actually PLAY with King Grayskull, and we know the other figures are going to have the same joints. The first thing I would have added to the 2002 line would have been elbows and knees, and these toys go way beyond that.

I was less enthused when the first figures were revealed. Rather than continuing with the improved designs the Four Horsemen had given us before, Mattel regressed to the chunky old style of the ’80s. Now, I could have lived with that: back when all toys were 5″, I didn’t have any problem mixing my Batman movie figures with my Batman the Animated Series toys – the stylistic differences don’t bug me as much as the next flaw with the “Classics” line: the size.

I don’t even mean the disappointing fact that the toys show a return to shared bodies, which means we’re again stuk with everyone being the same height. This is a broader issue.

ToyBiz took a big gamble when they decided to change the scale of their toys from 5″ to 6″, because the new toys wouldn’t match with the old ones, meaning you couldn’t integrate your collection. It paid off in the end, obviously, and everybody else moved to match them, creating a large “shared universe” of characters that can interact with one another, an MOTU was a part of it. These new ones, however? They’re too big. They have to stand on their own, and that’s not good.

Oil is getting rarer, and toys are getting more expensive. Is now really the time to try to make action figures BIGGER? Of course not. It’s a foolish move. If they were going to make the toys a new size, the smart move would have been to go the opposite direction: keep this same retro style, but do them in 3 3/4″ scale, which MOTU has never had before. REALLY be groundbreaking, and purposely set the new toys apart, instead of making them look like a careless mistake. That would also answer the worst problem with this line, the unreasonable price.

The fans defending Mattel say that they’re only charging what the market will bear. That’s a polite way of saying “they’re charging just below the amount that would make too many people complain about the price.” These toys have soft sculpts, and share body parts just like the original: there is no way that they should, in good conscience, cost $20, let alone cost $20 PLUS shipping PLUS some phantom tax. This is an in-house line, an original property with no additional licensing fees, and even the similarly exclusive DCU toys cost less. The math doesn’t work.

The unmatched beauty of the 2002 MOTU line was the way the Four Horsemen (as well as the cartoon and the comics) took the generic mix-n-match nature of the original Masters and gave them real personality, pushing the designs into new, yet familiar territory. Hell, I’m one of those who thinks there has yet to be a Marvel Legend with “too much” articulation, and yet I bought six series of $20 statues because it was the only way to get the Horsemen’s designs. This line throws all that work out the window and, though offering improved paint and articulation, embraces all the worst parts of the old toys.

In the ’80s, we didn’t know any better; now we do.

Next we have Michael Crawford, owner of the popular review website www.mwctoys.com:

Mattel is damned if you do, damned if you don’t in this situation, as is often the case when you try to make everyone happy. Companies rely heavily on past history to make decisions on future performance, and Mattel looked at their own 2002 release, and probably at what Hasbro did with G.I. Joe to try to make an informed decision.

The 2002 line was aimed at kids first, collectors second, as is the case with most mass market action figure lines these days. Kids do not respond, but collectors did. Unfortunately, we all know too well how difficult it is to keep a mass market line on the shelf with only collector support, and Mattel’s continuing problems with distribution sure didn’t help.

But MOTU was once king of the action figure aisle, and there’s still a solid collector base out there, so Mattel decided to try again. Of course, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, so something had to change.  One thing that changed was distribution – they decided to go with a more specialty market, direct to collector route. I think they should have merely stopped there with the changes, and stuck with the updated designs rather than making the second change, and going with a more original ‘reproduction’ style.

Now, I don’t have a personal dog in this fight, because I’m not a big MOTU fan one way or the other. But no matter how vocal that segment of the collecting community might be that demands these look like the old figures, reproduction type toys don’t do very well, historically. If I can buy an original loose Beastman for $20, why buy a reproduction, even when there are some ‘improvements’? Even when the original is expensive and hard to get, like Captain Action or the 12″ Joes, the repros never really sell all that well, and certainly not at the kind of level a major company like Mattel would expect.

There was no chance they’d go with the 2002 styles though. You can bet, sure as shit, that there was a camp at Mattel that never understood updating the look in the first place, since a) they sold great 20 years ago, why not now? and b) we’ve even got the molds around (I’m assuming) so we can save money too! You can bet that when the 2002 line failed, those in this camp took great pride in perfecting their ‘I told you so’ dance, creating a political atmosphere that wasn’t conducive to continuing with the new designs.

So now the very vocal fans of the old school designs will be happy, but it’s important to remember that the biggest dog doesn’t necessarily have the loudest bark. Or at least not the most annoying. Just because they’ve been very vocal (and so much for internet postings and complaints not having an effect) doesn’t mean they will really be buying in the kind of quantity necessary to get this past the first couple figures.

And finally, Rustin Parr, also of OAFE:

What I find most interesting in all of the MotUC discussion is that it has evolved from an argument over design to debate over business.

A lot of my feelings/thoughts on the whole situation have already been laid out. I am very much not a fan of the aesthetic, though now that the first two figures are out I have warmed up to the idea of buying a He-Man based on the photos I’ve seen from those who have one. However, the hold-back still comes from cost – that figure simply isn’t $30 (or $28.55 to be specific) to me.

It’s really the shipping that just pushes it over the barrier of being unwarranted for me. For some fans for whom this is a dream-come-true of a line that price is acceptable or fair, which I can completely understand as there are many dream-figures I would gladly pay that or more for to add to my collection, but are there enough of that kind of buyer to keep this line alive?

Really, that doesn’t even matter to me – I would have jumped all over an ’02 aesthetic line but it’s very clear that this isn’t going to be that, MotUC is quite literally not a line made for me which is where a lot of the perceived anger comes from. It really isn’t anger, its frustration. Frustration that, admittedly, I’m not ‘special enough’ for this line to cater to my desire and far more importantly – frustration that the design choice of the line is geared towards what is undeniably a smaller percentage of the collecting base than what other options might allow for. I am frustrated by MotUC because most toy requests today are met by a unanimous “we wouldn’t be able to sell enough to make it worth our while” response so when Mattel, the largest (or second largest?) toy company in the world makes a toyline with multiple factors limiting its appeal it upsets me with the industry as a whole.

I am frustrated because yet again Mattel seems to be misinterpreting the market and designing a line for failure yet again. Only time will tell and while I can forsee us naysayers warming up to the look of the line after enough releases, I still can’t see many new people jumping on down the line with figures at $20-$30 dollars a piece, especially when that means there will be more released to purchase and fill in.

Comments now closed (53)

  • @MGX: Sure, done. But to be clear, I'm still happy with MOTUC as-is, at least right now. That could change if they actually do create some 2002-style versions, though. I've been known to change my mind ("I am large, I contain multitudes").

  • That He-Man looks cool. No doubt. But even if I bought it, the current MOTUC He-Man would be my “default” He-Man.

    I think some characters obviously could improve but I’m not sure everyone needs a 200Xing. I think that’s the problem.

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