Buy the Power of Grayskull: The MOTUC Controversy

Few recent action figure lines have divided fans so strongly–and bitterly–as Mattel’s new Masters of the Universe Classics. The first two figures, He-Man and Beast Man, go on sale today at 12 p.m. EST on, barring any major website problems.

First, some background: in the early 1980s, Masters of the Universe (MOTU) was one of the most popular action figure lines of the time. It essentially ruled the period between the Star Wars craze and the rise of Transformers and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero in the mid-eighties, and many kids (myself included) started with MOTU and later moved to one of those properties. Now we’re all grown up and have become nostalgic action figure collectors, and the toy companies have catered to us with a slew of reissues and revamps of toys from our childhood.

Mattel first tried to capitalize on MOTU nostalgia in 2002. After hiring former McFarlane toy designers the Four Horsemen to do the sculpting, Mattel created an updated line aimed at both kids and collectors, supported by a new cartoon and a comic book. The Horsemen took the original MOTU designs and amped them up, emphasizing the original features from the characters while minimizing their more goofy traits and making the anatomy a bit more realistic. This was arguably the first MOTU controversy, as some diehard fans of the original line were disappointed by the new designs, while more casual fans and collectors who had never owned a He-Man figure were impressed.

The 2002 line proved to be relatively popular with collectors (see my reviews for a glimpse of how obsessed I was), but failed to catch on with kids. Moreover, it was plagued by poor distribution and ill-considered case assortments that were light on the secondary characters and heavy on the boring repaints (Smash Blade He-Man figures are now used to build low-cost housing in New Mexico).

The kids weren’t interested, the collectors became frustrated and angry, and the line ended after about a year, though the Horsemen kept it alive with their NECA-produced “Stactions”–non-articulated statues in the same scale and style as the figures.

Fast-forward to 2008. Encouraged by fan response to a Horsemen-sculpted He-Man figure they sneaked into a convention display, Mattel announces Masters of the Universe Classics (MOTUC). This time around, the sculpts were much more faithful to the 1980s designs while offering even more articulation than the 2002 figures. Not surprisingly, this has once again divided fans and collectors alike.

Rob Bricken, writer and editor for Topless Robot and a former editor for ToyFare magazine, is among those disappointed by the new direction. “It absolutely breaks my heart that Mattel is making articulated versions of the old MOTU line when their recent MOTU line was so, so much better, and had so much more potential,” Bricken wrote to me in an email. “The updated characters in the 2002 [line] were uniformly awesome, plus the line was cut short so many characters never got made, or only got made as hard-to-find, totally-non-articulated statuettes. And the figures that did get made were hampered by the necessities of a mass [market] toy line–Beast-Man and Ram-Man were supposed to tower over their contemporaries–and I know the Four Horsemen had more detailed paint jobs in mind, because I saw their prototypes back in my ToyFare days (also, Zodac was originally an alien, which was awesome but too freaky for Mattel). That’s the line that would truly benefit from this new collector-centric [focus].”

On the other side of the issue are collectors like Paul Rudolph of Toy Bender. “Personally, I like the direction the line is going right now,” Rudolph wrote in an email. “I’m all about nostalgia. For example, I only cared about G.I. Joe again when they started making them look like (and packaging them like) the figures I had when I was a kid. The example that applies directly to He-Man is that before the 200x line came out, Mattel was doing re-issue figures. While I didn’t buy a lot of them, I picked up a few of my favorite figures and I was looking forward to more, but that all stopped with the 200x line came out–of which I purchased zero figures.”

Rudolph continued: “The reason I didn’t pick up a single 200x He-Man figure was due to the fact that the characters were too exaggerated for my tastes. The sculpts were awesome, but I didn’t like the anime-like flair they had. I preferred the repackaging of old figures over this “new” line back then. If this makes me lame, so be it. For me, collecting is tied much more to the past than having a cool new toy.”

Diehard fans of the original line, such as “Havoc” from the forums, are even more vocal in their support of the new direction. “As far as [I’m] concerned, ‘What controversy?’ I hated the 200X figures soon as I saw them, it took me a long time, and explanations from the Four Horsemen that they’d been dictated to by Mattel, for me to warm up to them. This new line [is] exactly what I was hoping for and expecting to see in 2002. My only dislike is the price tag, and the ‘Internet only’ nonsense. It should have been fully backed and in stores as assortments. I’m absolutely certain these new figures would have a much wider appeal than 200X if they made the effort to make them available to casual buyers.”

Other collectors, such as online community mainstay Scott Metzger, take a more pragmatic view of the why Mattel chose this direction for MOTUC. “From what we know, there was a small cadre of folks at Mattel who, along with the Horsemen, pitched the idea of a new Masters line to the powers that be. There’s good reason to think it was an uphill battle. There is no media support. The idea was to target the line to collectors, with no real way of falling back on mom and the kids with Technicolor repaints. Add the fact that the delivery of the line through a collector’s website has had mixed results for other companies (recall Hasbro’s floundering Direct-To-Consumer G.I. Joe line a few years ago), and I don’t think the term “easy sell” would have applied. Given this, they didn’t have much of a choice: base the new [action figure line] on a twenty-year-old line that was wildly successful or try to push a more recent line that was, kindly put, not. Much as many fans, including myself, loved the 2002 line, it was a retail failure (for reasons that have been explored ad nauseum, so I won’t go into that here). Had they pushed for a continuation of that line, I doubt the higher ups would have been very receptive. Taking them back to the glory days of the 80’s, when He-Man ruled the aisles, was far more likely to convince the decision makers to take a chance.”

Metzger concluded, “As a fan of the original line, I’m excited about these figures and can’t wait to get them. As a fan of the 2002 line, I regret we never quite got to finish it, with a number of characters that never had the chance to be updated. I also understand that some fans are only interested in the more recent line, with no interest in the 80’s figures. But, in the end, the choice Mattel made with the MOTUC line is really the only one they could have if they wanted to get the line made.”

However, collectors’ criticisms of the line go beyond style; the high prices are also an issue for many. As Bricken noted, “I have no problem paying $20 for a good He-Man figure, but to re-do the old classic versions-even going to far as to re-use the same legs and arms and loincloths like the original toys did-is just insane to me. This is like pimping out an ’82 Chevy, whose transmission is busted. Yes, it’ll look better, but the car still won’t run. Meanwhile, there’s a perfectly functioning 2002 Camry with runs great, and could seriously benefit from a new paint job and rims. For $20 per figure, I should be receiving the exquisitely sculpted 2002 figures, but with better paint and better articulation. That’s more than fair.”

Rudolph, though he likes the designs, is also bothered by the price. “Twenty bucks for a figure is too much money. I’ll probably break down and buy Skeletor and a She-Ra if they make her, but that’s about it.”

Of course, the real question is how well the figures will sell. “Now, I’m going to buy all of these figures-partially because I’m obsessed with He-Man, and partially because I don’t want the line to fail,” wrote Bricken. “If it keeps going on, that’s more time for Mattel to make a few new 2002-era figures, or switch over the line entirely. But I know what I want from Mattel, and it’s not this.”


A year of PGPoA


Pic of the day


  1. Newt

    So when you run out of actual facts, I'm an old fag? One, I'm not old, two I'm not a fag and three your line sucked.

    No, I didn't find Evil-Lyn at KB. But I did find 90% of the figures, for about $3. And I passed. But are you suggesting that because a handful of figures were super hard to get, that it killed the line? That's silly. Distribution was terrible. So what? Distribution was terrible on THOUSANDS of Mattel toys. I never got a Destro as a kid, but GI Joe still sold. I never had a Shredder, but I bought TMNT still.

    Never did I say 200X failed because it sucked. But 200X did not tap into the vintage He-Man fans. Sure, it touched SOME of them, but not ALL of them. Which is why you see so many people come out of the woodwork for MOTUC and proclaim they've been waiting for decades for this.

    As far as He-Man being relevant? You're getting closer to the truth. He-man ISN'T relevant. I'm not sure he ever was. He-Man worked for a very brief glimpse in time because of proper marketing and ideas, but I would actually say He-Man isn't relevant at all anymore. Outside of a couple of years in the 80's He-Man wasn't ever relevant.

    What makes He-Man relevant today is not anything with the product itself, but with the NOSTALGIA attached to it from kids who bought the crap in the 80's. We all knew it was crap by 84-85 and that's why we moved to GI Joe, Transformers and stuff with some depth. But many of us still hold a soft sport for He-Man, no matter how crappy it might have been.

    200X didn't work because it tried to take the non-relevant He-Man and try to turn him into the current trends of the day, anime nonsense. And it failed. Because if there's anything that nostalgic old dudes hate more than Hollywood raping their properties is a RE-LAUNCH of their classic beloved items as anime inspired jibberish.

    As for 200X? I actually have NO problem with it whatsoever, so the whole "you're just an anti-200X" argument couldn't be anymore false. But since you're a 200X fanboy, most all your arguments are false.

    I do hate 200X fans though. Probably MegaGear the most. I don't hate the ones who just enjoy their property but the ones like you, who go on and on about how it's the greatest thing ever and have a thousand conspiracy theories as to why it failed but can't admit, not even once that the line DID fail.

    And I'm not sure I'd point to a Wikipedia article made by fanboys as proof that 200X was the greatest thing that ever happened to MOTU, toy collecting, the planet Earth, the Four Horsemen and assorted flavors of cheese.

    Heck maybe that's another reason 200X failed, because the people who collected it so passionately were completely insane. Or it could be the more logical reason that it failed to capture the attention of old collectors or young kids. Either way, bit of a moot point, cause the line died miserably, TWICE.

  2. AREZ

    I didn't get the chance to own any of the very first 80's figures, because I wasn't here in the U.S.A and back where I used to lived they were expensive. Now that I'm here in the U.S.A I can really own a Brand new He-Man figure with an old school look. I even took a half a day off from work just to go home and order He-Man and Beast Man. I will do the same if I have to, just to buy the next set of figures until I get them all. That's how much I'm into these new MOTUC.

  3. Mark

    I got my 2002 Evil Lynn for £14 including postage brand new 2 weeks ago. All I need now is Teela and Battle-Cat, then I am focussing on the MOTU Classics.

  4. MegaGearX

    You found Evil-Lyns at KB, Newt? She ran $40 on eBay at the time. You must live in a scalper free state if that's true.

    If you wanna use even more facts Newt, the original line died in 1988. Even after a live action movie. After that every He-Man toyline died a few years after launch, even the commemorative line. I guess He-Man isn't relevant anymore, huh?

    Just chalk it up to "I hate 200X" and call it a day. You can even look up Masters of the Universe on Wilkipaedia and find out the reasons why it died are the same as the ones we've mentioned.

  5. Tommy

    Are you KIDDING me newt? Did you bother going into a toy store when 2002 was out? Because if you did you should have noticed that it was rare to see anything other than a He-Man or Skeletor on the pegs. And not just 1 or 2 lone He-Man's or Skeletor's, we're talking pegs upon pegs FILLED with them. Kids LIKED the line, they just couldn't find any of the other GD figures!

    I was a fan of the 80's toon back in it's day, I had the figures, vehicles, etc., and I thought it was all awesome at that point in time. But looking back… I can't say it's aged well. 2002 was a perfect re-imaging of He-Man. It remained very faithful to the original designs, but it actually made them look COOL! I'm sorry but the look of the 80's stuff is just goofy to me, and I think it's laughable that you would think a kid would prefer those designs over the badassary that was the 2002 line.

    Anyone who tries to say 2002 failed for any reason other than the horrible case ratios is just a bitter oldfag who doesn't know how to adapt to the times. I may be an oldfag myself, but at least I can recognize 2002 blew anything the 80's did out of the water.

  6. Newt

    I love that 200X fans have a thousand excuses why 200X tanked terribly even WITH a cartoon behind it and go on and on about how MOTUC sucks.

    200X did not capture the hearts and minds of kids, collectors or anyone. Yes, there was a small fan community and it did have a hard time with the figures, but I saw almost EVERY 200X figure at clearance at KB for years. If the figures were good, they'd sold.

    Saying MOTUC would do the same is hypothetical. I don't deal in "What if's", I deal in facts. 200X failed.

  7. Rapol

    Okay, I admit. As much as I hate this line, truthfully enough, it's a great marketing scheme for starters (as in, it's aimed for the pro-80s collectors).

    Though it's the price that I am iffy about (unless of course, you're willing dish out that amount of cash).

  8. I think the 200x Chevy analogy is off, because MotU 200x DIDN'T run great. Bad distribution ratios, too many variants — it's like the car was missing parts and had multiple fuel pumps, or something. Overflooded too soon.

    I think the elephant in the room is that today's kids aren't into cavemen, even with futuristic tech. The '80s generation was pre-Internet, pre-cell phone, pre-instant gratification and now, now, now. An imaginative look into the past was considered, welcomed. Now, kids dig the likes of Yu-Gi-Oh, where even the HEROES don't engage in battle but throw out cards and creatures to do it for them. Kids can relate to that, because they can mimic and do it.

    I like the idea of a monthly retro-oriented series, because it's just for me. Not clouded with thin attempts to appeal to kids that aren't listening anyway. It's appealing to the kid in ME. And he's thrilled as heck!

  9. Esbat

    I really just want a Skeletor…

  10. Mark

    If these were marketed right and sold in HMV as well as toy shops I do not think they would haveany bother selling. People who remember these from there childhood would snap them up.

  11. Mark

    Thet needed to be like the 80's. When you walked into a toy store there was a ton of different He-Man characters. In the UK at first it was He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Stratos, Skeletor, Beastman and Merman…..then after those it was just He-Man variants. I found it extremely hard finding others here in the UK after the first few figures.

  12. MegaGearX

    Guys, at least get the facts straight.

    The line failed because you couldn't find any secondary characters at retail. The shelves were clogged with too many Smash Blade He-Man and Spin Blade Skeletors, while scalpers took all of the remaining one per case characters and made a profit on eBay. The idea that the details or the sculpting (which was hailed by many toy journalists, especially Trap Jaw) scared away customers is completely lame. And as for anime, kids just weren't feeling barbarians at the time. They were more into anime like DBZ and Yugi-Oh.

    If MOTUC went to retail and all the case assortments contained the same two figures, it would fail too.

  13. Tom-Tom

    One thing worse than someone who's clearly biased? People that won't make up their damn mind.

    The price thing is what gets me. I'm not a child of the 80's, and have no connection to He-Man, so the figures have to stand on their own. A line that re-uses multiple parts should not have figures that cost $20 + shipping!

  14. Paul hit the nail on the head! Mattel isn't stupid. Hasbro's quarterlys are doing great, even though we've been in a "recession" since last December.

    As far as 200x is concerned, not to add to the pile, but if Mattel resisted the trend to make EVERYTHING anime influenced and rather went with the roots of MOTU, maybe the line would have fared better. But its no use in speculating, there were a hundred things that could go wrong and it seems like they all did.

    It was a great line while it lasted, and the series was great too. But now its just a part of He-Man lore, just like the filmation series and New Adventures. Time to move on!

    @Rapol: Aren't ALL opinions biased? Thats why they're opinions…

  15. Mark

    Totally agree. Look at Transformers, nearly all these new versions of characters are all based on there original G1 characters, not Beast Wars or Energon etc. As much as I liked the 2002 line I can't help but think that if they had been more nostalgic in the first place the line might have done a lot better.

  16. Rapol, a line that failed was responsible for bringing this line about? I don't think that's how it worked. I think Mattel saw how successful Hasbro was at bringing back G.I. Joe and thought they'd get a piece of that pie. So they naturally went back to their most successful '80s toy. M

  17. neroman

    He-Man sucks nads, yo!

  18. Mark

    Thanks to Mattel's stupidity for not including a pay via PayPal option I and I imagine a lot of others are having to shell out more money to get these fgures. On ebay at £40 each including postage. As much as I like and want them….I am just not sure I can justify paying that.

  19. I just moved, and reset a couple of shelves worth of toys, and was surprised to realize how much of the 200X line I had. (I was working at a music store at the time, so I got them cheap.) But for twenty bucks a pop (is that with postage? No?) I might not be interested until they get to some of the second-tier characters.

    Random, overstocked 200X figures like Battle Fist Man-at-Arms can to this day be found in drugstores around here (at full price), though I swear one still had a Buzz-Off…might have to look into that.

  20. Rapol

    As much as the 02 line supposedly didn't "touch" kids, I'd have to say, I was one those kids that got touched by it. Heck 02 He-Man was the only reason I got sucked into collecting He-Man at all (I'm a big King Hiss fan).


    I hate biased opinions like these. Heck the only reason that the 02 line sucked was because of Mattel's mishandling of the line. 02 rocks, and just so you know Newt, I AM COMPLAINING about the 80s line, and I'll keep complaining in the years to come if this line continues. Admit it, the only reason this new line ever came to fruition, is because of He-Man's revival at the hands of the 4Horsemen in the form of 2002 He-Man, sparking popularity in the line again.

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