No discussion of Fearless Photog can be complete without first mentioning this article on X-Entertainment.com,* the seminal 1980s kids’ culture website by Matt Caracappa. At this point, anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Masters of the Universe knows the story: in 1985, Mattel held a “Create-A-Character” contest. Children were invited to send in their ideas for new characters, which were then voted on by fans via a phone number. The winner received a $100K scholarship, a trip to Disneyland, and best of all, their character would be made into an actual Masters of the Universe figure.
Only it didn’t happen that way.
The winner of the contest was a lad named Nathan Bitner. Bitner got the scholarship and the Disneyland trip–and even got to be “president of Mattel” for a day–but Fearless Photog was never made. I don’t know if it’s ever been stated exactly why, but I imagine it was some combination of the character’s complicated design (it might have required an almost entirely new sculpt), the waning of the brand’s popularity around that time, and perhaps some concern over how the figure itself would sell–despite its 40,000+ votes, Bitner’s entry was a little conceptually weird, even compared to produced characters like Blast-Attak or Rio Blast.
Fearless Photog became a legend among the diehard MOTU fans during the years between the franchise’s demise and the resurgence in 2001. But when Matt posted his article in 2003, it led to an investigative frenzy among X-E readers as they sought to track down Nathan Bitner.
And track him down they did. Here’s the interesting part: it would have been unsurprising, perhaps even expected, for Bitner to have lived a pretty normal life–high school, college, maybe a job as a business manager or a systems analyst or a plumber or whatever. But what made the Nathan Bitner story so interesting was it turned out the creator of Fearless Photog had lived a life less ordinary, so to speak. He had been an early member of Bungie, the company that created the Halo franchise, and played a role in the development of the character Cortana. At the time of the X-E article, he was serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq. There was also a number of sordid stories about Nathan’s life in-between, which don’t need to be rehashed here, but certainly served to build his legend among both X-E readers and MOTU fans.
In honor of the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary, Mattel has finally followed through on their promise to produce a Fearless Photog action figure–part of the separate 30th Anniversary Subscription, which will feature six brand-new MOTU characters, including one designed by a fan in the brand-new Create-a-Character contest (and evidently the winning entry is already being sculpted).
So, how is the figure?
If I wasn’t initially excited for Photog, I wasn’t against him, either. His announcement and arrival came during a time of lower ebb of enthusiasm for MOTUC, so I didn’t really open him with any positive or negative impressions ahead of time. I ended up being pleasantly surprised–despite a major QC flaw.
Design & Sculpt: Photog has a fair amount of new tooling: his torso, head, and pelvis cover are all new (these bootless lower legs, also seen on Demo-Man, put us another step toward Oo-Larr–all we need now are bare forearms and feet). The sculpting is the usual great work from the Four Horsemen. The film-reel belt is cute.
The torso has what may be one of the best lenticular stickers I’ve ever seen; it gives off a powerful 3D effect. Dr. Mrs. Ghostal took one look at it and said it made her eyes hurt.
Plastic & Paint: I actually love the paint scheme for this figure. I find the blue, yellow and black a sharp, appealing study in contrasts, and while somewhat similar to Sy-Klone, the black adds just the right touch.
Articulation: Photog has ball joints at the neck, shoulders and hips; swivel joints at the biceps, wrists, waist, and top of the thighs; and hinges at the elbows, abdomen, knees and ankles. There’s also a very slight rocker motion at the ankles. It’s notable that, due to the lack of boots, he doesn’t have the swivel at the top of the boot that most MOTUC figures have.
Accessories: Photog comes with the shield seen in his original design, and a “camera-gun.” The “flashbulb reflector shield” is interesting, as it features three different parts: a silver plastic frame, a clear plastic surface, and a yellow background inside that could be painted, a plastic piece, or a sticker (I can’t find out without taking it apart). I’m not certain but I’m guessing the shield is supposed to resemble a flashbulb.
The camera gun is a new item created by the Horsemen, and while it’s as weird as Photog itself (does it…take images? Or just shoot…bullets? Or film-bullets?), it’s quite a fun little item.
Quality Control: There are two things that must be mentioned about the head. The lens is intended to extend via a small tab in the back of the head that can be pushed forward. Unfortunately, there’s a somewhat common quality control flaw whereby the extendable lens is cracked; the error is detailed and discussed here. I was fortunate enough not to have the crack; however, my figure’s lens is stuck in place. I spent half an hour trying to finesse it out, and it would not budge. Ultimately I decided I’d rather have a stuck lens than a cracked one, so I gave up. You can see pics of both the extension and the crack in the MTV Geek review.
Overall: I wrote recently (in regard to Sir Laser Lot) that there seems to be a strong preference among MOTUC fans for the more barbaric, sword-and-sorcery characters than the science fiction characters in MOTU (though the franchise has always had a healthy mix of both). Photog is obviously more on the sf side of things, and as such, I know a lot of fans weren’t interested. Unlike Spector, though, I don’t think he looks much like a superhero–he’s a little too weird even for that. The whole camera-for-a-head thing fits in less with, say, DC Universe Classics and more with a line that has dudes with giant hands, cyborg cowboys with weapons concealed in their torsos and thighs, and elephant-headed firemen.
But without moments of opening him, the charm of his bizarre design and the care that went into it (quality control issues aside) won me over. In some ways, the creativity, craziness and flat-out daring of the design reminds me of the way it felt to play with He-Man figures as a kid than a more traditional fantasy design like Draego-Man (no offense to the Horsemen–Draego-Man looks great). But whatever you think of him, I’m glad I finally got a chance to own Nathan Bitner’s childhood vision in toy form.
* A website I can only wish I’d created, because, like Devo’s Mark Motherbaugh’s reaction to Weird Al’s “Dare to Be Stupid,” it distills the essence of everything I’ve ever wanted to do with this blog.