Poe’s Point > Canontinuity

A couple of weeks ago, Scott Neitlich (Mattel’s “Toy Guru”) wrote an interesting post for the Matty Mattel Facebook page that I think deserves another look.

Here’s the post in its entirety:

A lot of fans have written in and posted online asking about the new bios for the MOTUC line and if they are the one true offical canon for the property. The short answer is “no.” No version of MOTU is actually considered the one and only storyline.

There have been many different versions and backstories for many of the MOTU characters ranging from the original toy line, the Filmation series, the 1987 live-action film, the 2002 series and toy line as well as new projects underway.

The idea behind the bios for the Classics line was to tip our hats to the fans and create at least one continuity which helped answer a lot of unanswered questions and tied up loose ends between different existing and sometimes contradicting tales. We do have a storyline and relationships fleshed out for most of the key characters. By the end of 2009, after enough characters have been introduced a lot of questions will be answered. (we ARE going somewhere with this and we think a lot of fans will be VERY happy with what will be revealed in the bios this year…)

But the true “canon” for MOTU is really in fan’s hands. It is how we all played out the fantasies of He-Man vs. Skeletor in our childhood and on our toy shelves today. MOTU has always been an avatar designed to allow one’s imagination the freedom to create and play and invent new situations and stories. The stories fans create are just as real as the stories in the mini comics and in the animated series. The important thing is that they are all about the engaging characters of this world and the different situations they can be in.

While MOTUC line will continue to have well researched and fleshed out bios for characters, fans should always know that the imagination is limitless and so are the story possibilities for all of the heroes and villains of the worlds of He-Man and She-Ra.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the years about how my childhood play was informed and influenced by the cartoons and comics my toys were based on (or were based on my toys). I felt an urge to keep my figures “in character”–He-Man was really Prince Adam and had to hide his true identity, Grimlock was dumb and referred to himself as “me Grimlock,” Michaelangelo was a party dude. Whereas for decades kids had been able to come up with whatever identity they wanted for their 12″ G.I. Joe, in the 1980s suddenly there was “Duke,” and “Flint,” and “Snake Eyes,” whose personalities and behavior were not only depicted in the cartoons, but even on “bio cards” on the back of the packaging. Kids were no longer buying an action figure; they were buying a character.

Some social critics have suggested the cross-pollination of toys and cartoons in the 1980s had the effect of circumscribing children’s imagination. In their play, according to these critics, the children merely replicate the ritualistic conflicts portrayed in the cartoons, lining them up for battle and then going through the same clichéd motions often seen on the shows.

I make no claim to be a sociologist, but this has always struck me as just plain wrong. While there’s no question the stories of those cartoons and comics were often overly simple and clichéd, the characters and their world fired my imagination the same way science fiction and fantasy novels and movies did. And while I tended to stick with the characterizations of characters as shown on their cartoons or comic, I had no trouble incorporating figures from other toy lines (such as Weed Killer or Soaron) as brand-new characters, and often these additions would drive the focus of my play. (It may also account for my unusually tolerant attitude toward crossover fiction.)

However, all that said, I’ve often said that, given the chance, the action figure line I would like to create would consist entirely of characters with no given names, no “profile cards,” and no cartoons or comics. They would be highly articulated and feature many different genres, from superheroes to scientists, cowboys to aliens, ogres to robots, knights to spacemen. There might even be an Internet component whereby kids (or collectors) could create a unique name and history for their figures and share them.

The conventional wisdom in the toy industry today is that original concepts aren’t viable, so a toy line like the one described above, with no cartoon or comic to back it up, would never fly. And it’s true that Masters of the Universe, while successful in its first few years, didn’t take off into mega-popularity until after the cartoon came out.

Nonetheless, it warms my heart to see Mattel encouraging the idea that the characters and world of Masters of the Universe are what one makes of it. That’s why all the arguments about “Demo-Man” and whether or not Scare-Glow is “really” Skeletor’s ghost strike me as silly. If I think it’s cool to think of Scare-Glow as the future disembodied spirit of Skeletor, then I’m going to do just that. If you think “Demo-Man” is a stupid name or concept, then it doesn’t exist–note I didn’t say “pretend” it doesn’t exist. It’s all pretend. If you choose to think of the mythos depicted in the 1980s Filmation cartoon, the 2002 cartoon, or the MOTUC bios as your “official” continuity, that’s your prerogative.

Or you could come up with something completely different. Maybe there isn’t an Eternia at all; perhaps He-Man lives in the Hyborian Age, and King Randor’s kingdom lies to the east of Aquilonia. Maybe He-Man is an enforcer for the fascist overlord Randor, who usurped the throne from his older brother Keldor by smiting him with a curse that robbed him of his flesh and made him an outcast; and now Keldor and his band of misfit rebels fight a lonely battle against Randor’s totalitarian empire.

Maybe Faker is the real He-Man.

Comments now closed (11)

  • It used to bother me when I was more deeply immersed in transformers, and I never want to read another RIBFIR/RIRFIB thread ever again. But if they have to occasionally change aspects to keep the character fresh, without killing what makes the character appealing to longtime fans, it shouldn't be a big deal. I suppose the best way to put it is that I was OK with Ed Brubaker and John Byrne's updates to Dr. Doom's origin, but the movie's was too far off from the character for me to appreciate it at all.

  • "…the action figure line I would like to create would consist entirely of characters with given names, no “profile cards,” and no cartoons or comics. They would be highly articulated and include many diverse styles, from superheroes to scientists, cowboys to aliens, ogres to robots, knights to spacemen."

    So where can I buy these? Let me know when they go into production.

  • Sorry, that should read "no given names."

    As for where are they, let me just get hired by a major toy company and I'll get back to you. 🙂

  • Okay, I haven't read your whole article yet because I wanted to put my thoughts down while they were fresh, but I tend to think that while the stories in the cartoons tended to influence my play they didn't overtake it.

    I would often have giant battles between Star Wars and G.I. Joe characters, hell any character that was about the right size would join in. I don't remember any of the stories that occurred right now, but they weren't possible in the cartoons. They were vast sci-fi epics, not centered around what I saw in the shows of my youth.

  • As a kid I would usually play with my figures using their 'official' backstory for a month or two, but eventually they would all become part of the much bigger story I was building in my head. I was able to enjoy both versions, I suppose: the official canon and my imagination.

  • We always mixed and matched. Sgt. Slaughter and Mercer teamed up with a variety of other cool figures and we're basically like their GI Joe counterparts, but they fought Thundercat's badguys and cruised around in the Millenium Falcon.

    When I played Batman, I kept it pretty canon, but if Slash from the Ninja Turtles showed up, he could be a mutant, he could be Slash or he might be an alien or something. Whatever I wanted.

    I've always done that.

  • Poe, the toyline you describe sound somewhat similar to Stikfas. You do know what Stikfas are, right? If not, you might wanna take a look. They're kinda mor elike model kits, but they still come in a wide variety of unliscenced characters.

  • @Andrew–

    You're right, Stikfas is similar to what I've outlined (and I own a few kits–the robot is especially awesome).

    But they're very stylized and blocky, whereas what I'm thinking of is a Marvel Legends or DCUC-style 6" line of realistically-sculpted characters.

  • Mix and Match play was always my thing anyway – even as a Kid I was highly discerning/a total whiny Bastard about what I thought made a good backstory for my toys and what didn't.

    Star Wars figures would shoot it out with Micronauts (case in point:Marvel turned Micronauts into a total clone of the Star Wars story anyway – why did I need that? I already had one Swars) and He-man would get the snot pounded out of him by my Mego Hulk – none of which good clean fun could be had by following the Licensed World's way of telling me a story.

    And your plain-Vanilla but totally awesome Action Figure line is one I could really go for…..so go out, raise/steal a couple of Mill and start making them Dammit!!!

  • The possibility to mix-n-match figures from different franchises is what excites me of the upcoming 1:18 scale superhero figures announced by Hasbro and Mattel.

    When you throw in offerings from smaller companies like Mezco or Zizzle, then you have the basis for extremely rich play patterns emerging in the next few years. Now, excuse me, my SDCC Hellboy needs to see something about a red ninja stealing the Ark of the Covenant. 😉

  • Now thats what I'm talking about – Id pay to see that in theatres…..

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