We had so much stuff planned for our 10th anniversary week that we couldn’t squeeze it all in back in April and since this whole year is really our 10th anniversary we are going to keep on celebrating!
Scott “Toy Guru” Neitlich has been a friend and a gracious contributor to us here at AFi for 10 years. When I reached out to him about participating in the AFi 10th anniversary celebration he didn’t have anything at Jakks that he could give us to reveal, but he still wanted to be a part of the festivities. As you will recall, Scott left his position at Mattel late last year and took up his new role as Director of Action Figures at JAKKS Pacific.
Instead we will look back at part of his time at Mattel, specifically writing the minicomics for the Masters of the Universe Classics line. If everything still remains in place Scott still has 2 more issues that he wrote to be released this year. He sat down with us and answered every question that he could about the his furthering the MOTU legacy and lore. Because he doesn’t want to spoil anything we focus on the recently released issue 6… but we get a few hints on what is still to come…
Action Figure Insider: So thanks for sitting down with us. We all know you are no longer with Mattel but your work on Masters of the Universe Classics is continuing, or rather wrapping up with the release of the final 3 mini comics you wrote. Issue 6 shipped last month, when do the final 2 issues ship?
Scott D. Neitlich: Well as you noted, I’m no longer at Mattel and am now Director of Action Figures at JAKKS Pacific. BUT…assuming the plans I helped set up are still in place and Mattel has not made any changes, issue 7 and 8 should be shipping with the final 2015 item, the holiday $60.00 item that is included in the 2015 subscription. I actually have printed copies of the final two issues, so I presume (unless someone from Mattel says otherwise) that the plan is still in place for the story to wrap up this year before the big rebranding in 2016.
AFI: So back to issue 6, this issue is noted as part 1 of 3 for a storyline called “The Fall of Eternia”. Was it always the idea to wrap up the mini comics with a 3 parter?
SDN: Yes and no. I actually wrote issue 6 by itself almost two years ago with the intent that if we got around to it we would put out issue 7 and 8 one day. And if we didn’t, it would be similar to the vintage line where the final mini comic releases was noted as “The Powers of Grayskull part 1/3” except part 2 and 3 never shipped!
But the fates aligned and before I left Mattel we found a way to fund and publish two more mini comics in 2015 and 7 and 8 were written together with a clear ending in mind. Issues 7 and 8 were written almost a year after issue 6 was written and months after issue 6 was printed.
AFI: So you were able to finish the final two issues before leaving Mattel ?
SDN: I wrote both issues and was still at Mattel when issue 7 was drawn, inked and colored. But I left right before issue 8 was set to be drawn. Axel did layouts for the first 6 pages (of 8) and for a double page spread right before I left, but after that the new Matty team finished it up. But it is still my script as intended. So the story was not changed. They were kind enough to get me a sample copy of both issues to thank me for all the work I did.
AFI: So guessing you won’t be spoiling any of the story for us?
SDN: Not at all! But it is the second and third part of a larger story, so if you liked part 1, hopefully you will love part 2 and 3.
AFI: That actually brings up a good point. A lot of fans have reacted to issue 6 that it felt very rushed and jammed packed. Are issues 7 and 8 like this too.
SDN: The thing with a 3 parter is that the first part is a lot of set up. I know many fans commented on issue 6 that it felt like a lot of new characters were being introduced and they don’t do much beyond stand around. Well some of that is due to this being just the first part of the story. It’s a lot like watching the first 30 minutes of Star Wars and noting that Luke doesn’t really do anything.
There is a lot of set up going on in issue 6 and this will hopefully lead to some great payoffs in the next two issues.
AFI: One area of the mythos that this issue explores, or opens up for the first time, is the Dare Son of He-Man era. Some fans are excited over this, others are fearful you (or rather Mattel) is trying to replace He-Man and Skeletor with there kids. Care to comment?
SDN: Ha! Yeah. I’ve seen those comments. Basically, the bottom line is that like all the MOTUC mini comics, the goal was to introduce lots of new characters, locations and situations with the hope that some of them might become “fan demanded” and get figures one day. Obviously not every “new” character will be a hit, but for every Robowoman or Bandwidth you get a Lady Slithor who has wound up on many top 20 lists of figures fans want to see.
AFI: So Dare and Skeleteen are not intended to take over the MOTU brand or the 2016 rebranding?
SDN: Well I definitely can not comment on any plans for 2016. You will need to ask Mattel and the new team about that. What I can tell you is before leaving I did work on extensive plans for a potential 2016 line down to the character selection level and the plans I left were definitely not “Son of He-Man” plans. It doesn’t mean those characters are off the table for Mattel, but the 2016 line I worked on was not centered around that at all. But again, I left Mattel over 6 months ago and I have no working knowledge of where they wound up with 2016 planning.
AFI: So 2016 will not be all about Dare and his “all new all different” Masters?
SDN: Not in the plans I left. Dare and Skeleteeen (and all the rest of the supporting players) were dropped into the mini comic in the same way as issue 5 dropped in all of the vintage and 30th Create-a-Character runner ups. It’s no secret that the line is running out of vintage characters (which were always the best sellers). The mini comics (which are funded by marketing dollars) were always designed to help MARKET the line and introduce new characters and find homes for existing ones (again, I did not make up Dare or Skeleteen, these are all existing characters from vintage material) in hopes that when and if the line continues past the vintage line (2009-2015) there exists the possibility to extend the line with more characters from the mini comics. It doesn’t mean this is set in stone, but at least the mini comics offer at least the possibility of adding these characters as toys one day (if there is enough fan interest and this is something Mattel wants to do).
AFI: The design of Dare (Hero II) has also caused some controversy that he is basically a “ epaint” of New Adventures He-Man. Is this something you can comment on?
SDN: Well to address that, for starters, the design we used for Dare is pulled directly from vintage material. This was his original design. How and if he would be translated into a toy is up to Mattel at this point, but I can note that when it comes to designing new characters for the minis, any new characters, from a Mattel marketing POV, it makes 100% sense to use as few new parts as possible. Toys are expensive to produce and tool, so if you are going to design a new character it makes sense to design it using existing parts to help make the potential toy execution easier. This is a strategy that has always been in the MOTUC mini comics. For example, Robowoman was designed to be a Granita repaint (or visa versa) and Hans Hammer Holder was deliberately designed to use a lot of Ram Man parts. I understand fans may want more outlandish designs, but since these mini comics characters are being designed to be considered for potential figures one day, we always try to design them with as many shared parts from day 1 as possible.
AFI: What about the pacing of the story? That is also something that has stirred a lot of fan talk.
SDN: Yes this issue definitely covered a lot. Some of it was for logical reasons (He-Man needed to be “away” for 15 years in order for Dare to be old enough when he returned to pick up the Power Sword, if you will). I would have loved to have more panel space and page count to show more of He-Man and Dare bonding or do a training montage. Maybe that is something that can fit into issue 7 or 8….
AFI: Interesting. So would you say a lot of the things fans are asking for that they didn’t see in issue 6 has the possibility of showing up in the next two issues?
SDN: Well, like you said before, this is part 1 of 3. Issue 6 was a lot about setting the stage so that we can go on the adventure that awaits in issues 7 and 8. There are also some great costume changes in issue 7 and 8 as well that fans will get a kick out of. After all, each new costume is potentially a new toy! All about maximize the potential of every issue and every panel to justify the greatest number of potential figures one day.
AFI: Switching gears a bit, while you didn’t create Dare or Forklift or King He-Man, one of your creations, “The Mighty Spector” has appeared in quite a few of the mini comics, including issue 6. Some fans have accused you of tying to “take over the brand” with Spector. Any thoughts on this?
SDN: Ha! Yeah, that is a comment I see sometimes. One of my only “regrets” on the line was calling Spector “Heroic Master of Time Travel”. I never intended (nor currently do intend) for Spector to have played that important of a role in the MOTU world. I wish I had instead called him “Heroic Time Traveling Spy”. I used the term “Master of Time Travel” as an homage to the vintage line the way most of the figures were the “Master of BLANK”. Spector was never meant to be the new face of the brand, he was King He-Man’s time travel spy who pops up in Preternia or as an ally of King He-Man, but always as a background character. He does show up in issue 6, but only as one of many characters working with King He-Man.
AFI: So Spector is not the new “He-Man”?
SDN: Not in the least. In fact, in issue 7, I addressed this issue pretty clearly to ensure that fans know Spector was never meant to be the new main character. I never intended that and after so much feedback on that matter it was time to make it clear how “background” Spector was meant to be. It’s a little tongue in cheek, but I think fans will be happy with where we wind up. I never intended for Spector to be such a controversial character. In a way, the fan commentary on him made Spector bigger than he was ever intended to be. So I wanted to pop that balloon and keep him as a background character as intended. He won’t he time traveling to alter history or the franchise or anything. Never the idea.
AFI: What else can you tell us about issues 7 and 8?
SDN: Well as I noted above, issue 6 is all set up, and I think that is many ways why it felt “rushed” or jammed packed. Issue 7 and 8, which were written and drawn together (like the Matrix or BTTF Sequels) finish off the story. I hope that when read all together issues 5-8 will read as one complete tale wrapping up the MOTUC canon.
AFI: So no plans to continue mini comics or bios after 2015?
SDN: That would be a question for Mattel. I wrote something like 150-200 unique bios back in 2009. Most have seen print at this point, but there are a few on the master bio word document (which Mattel has) that are not planned for 2015. Whether Mattel will use these bios on 2016 releases and beyond is up to them and not something I am in a place to comment on. But there are a handful of additional bios written as well as a 7 page “Master story document” that was written before the bio to help keep track of all of this!
AFI: So back to Dare for a moment. While he is a “vintage” concept, the MOTUC mini comics mark his first true appearance. Is he the future of the brand?
SDN: What role he takes for the “brand” after 2015 (as wither a toy or in entertainment) is something Mattel would need to comment on. He was put into the mini comics purely as a way of getting as many “potential figures” in the mini comics as possible for that “one day” when the line runs out of vintage figures (i.e. end of 2015). He also helps take the brand forward, moving past your basic He-Man vs. Skeletor stories. I know a lot of fans were wondering why the mini comics can’t be a traditional He-Man vs. Skeletor story. We kinda did that with issue 5, but honestly, Filmation and MYP already tackled that era pretty deep. The minis (and bios) were meant to keep the brand moving forward (as if there were hypothetical additional seasons of MYP or Filmation that were never made). He-Man vs. Skeletor has been done a ton. The minis (for marketing purposed and because they were funded by marketing dollars) needed to be used to push the brand forward and intro new concepts, characters and locations. We still wanted to tell good stories, but they needed to have a strong marketing purpose as well to justify the spend.
AFI: What about She-Ra? She appears in issue 6 in her DC Comics Despara garb and than winds up in He-Man’s arms calling out for Sea Hawk. Some fans have felt this was a direct commentary on her importance or anti female empowerment. Any thoughts on this?
SDN: I think this may be a case of fans reading too much into something. Similar to dropping in Dare and Skeleteen, Despara’s (She-Ra’s) appearance in issue 6 was mostly to help set up the potential demand for a Despara figure one day and to include her in the MOTUC storyline (it is an awesome design!). The call out for Jeoff (Seahawk) in the end was never intended as commentary on feminism or empowerment, but rather was a wink and a nod for the Uber fans that remember Dare was originally going to be She-Ra and Sea-hawk’s son. Having her call out to Sea Hawk was an illusion to this abandoned story point (in Classics we clearly went with Dare as the biological son of He-Man and Teela) as well as a way of wrapping up the whole She-Ra/Bow/Sea Hawk love triangle and giving a definitive answer to that storyline.
AFI: Speaking of which, issue 6 also wrapped up a few other dangling plot threads such as revealing the “secret link between Earth and Eternia”, “how Teela got the Staff of Ka” and a resolution to the He-Man/Teela love story. Was this deliberate?
SDN: Of course. Without a new animated series or other form of entertainment to drive Classics, I did my best to use the bios and mini comics to drive the story forward. There were several dangling plot threads from the bios, some deliberate, others that fans asked about that were never intended to be dangling. Either way, I wanted to use the minis to directly and specifically address these issues to ensure by the time 2015 wrapped up most of the outstanding canon questions would be wrapped up.
And it was FANTASTIC to finally see Adam and Teela kiss. 30+ years and never a kiss. Long long overdue. I was actually a little surprised this panel did not get more feedback. I thought it would be huge for the fans!
AFI: So in the tone of dangling plot points, does this mean we will finally find out the origin of the Green Goddess?
SDN: Yes, without giving anything away, by the time issue 8 wraps up this plot point will be addressed too.
AFI: What about the tease at the end of the issue? It promises a lot in the next issue including an appearance by fan favorite Illumina as well as the return of King Hssss.
SDN: So funny story with that. When I wrote issue 6, as noted above, I hadn’t written issue 7 and 8 yet. I had an outline and idea from the master bio sheet of what it would contain, but the details were not all worked out. I wrote the tease to leave the next issue open and then when it came time to actually write issues 7 and 8 I kinda wrote myself into a corner and had to make sure the script for 7 included all of the elements that the “next issue box” promised. It was actually a good writing tool as it forced me to ensure all of those events teased in the next issue box actually happened. It worked out better than I expected in a way.
AFI: So did you always have long term plans for Illumina? She was part of the fan choice contest a few years back but did not win. Did you use an existing storyline for her?
SDN: So with Illumina, the nice thing is we had a fan demanded character who had zero story. Her only “canon” Mattel sanctioned appearance was a teaser cover for a comic issue that never shipped. Basically a pin up. So we only had that one visual image to go by and were free to create a storyline for her based on that single image. She has no previously published storyline so it made it easy to include her since outside of her single visual there were no existing restrictions or direction for her story (from Mattel franchise group). A lot of fans have made up fan fiction over the years for who she “might be” but issue 7 will be her first official Mattel sanctioned appearance. I’ve been trying to do everything I could to get her into the line for years, and finally finding a way to get her into the mini comics was a huge victory.
AFI: There was also some controversy over how Skeletor is handled. In issue 5 he is killed and then resurrected. In issue 6 he is a mindless zombie and then beheaded. Why bring him back just to kill him?
SDN: Partially to keep the element of surprise going.
But there is a little bit of background on this that involved behind the scenes plans that never happened….
I’ve mentioned in other interviews that originally there were plans in 2014 for a multimedia “Shadows of the Empire” type project for MOTU that would have involved toys, comics and games. Basically everything but a movie. The project would have been called “The Fall of Eternia” and would have centered around King He-Man and the design Mattel franchise group created that became “zombie Skeletor”.
Like much in the toy industry, plans change A LOT and this project was ultimately dropped. The only elements that survived was a mini fig of King He-Ma (which was originally intended to tie into this project) and the final page of issue 5 which the franchise team specifically requested to help set up their project (which never happened). The title “Fall of Eternia” also appeared on the cover of issue 5. Once Franchise’s Fall of Eternia multimedia project went away (after issue 5 was published and the King He-Man mini fig was tool’d), we had to scramble to pick up the pieces.
Issue 5 promised the “final battle of He-Man and Skeletor” and when the franchise team required he be brought back on the last page (to support there “Fall of Eternia” project that was ultimately canceled) it made the “final battle” less final. I knew we now needed to pay this off so we continued Skeletor’s story a little different. Had the franchise team’s project come to fruition, issue 6-8 might have been different. But once the multi media project was canned, I picked up the pieces and went in a different direction. There will be a pay off as well but that will need to wait for the next two issues. DC comics also liked the design Franchise created so much that theyused it in there MOTU vs. DCU mini series too. Amazing the way things work out that you could never have expected.
AFI: One last question; on the final page, you wrote a bit of a “joke” page with Scrollos from the UK comics answering fan mail and call out forum member “Mega Gear Max” by name. Any reason for that? Did he pay you off?
SDN: Ha! No. He didn’t pay me off or anything. But over the years I have seen how he always seemed to be the guy who would repost things from Matty’s forums on other fan sites and help spread news. I always appreciated this, he was kinda doing my job for me and helping out without realizing it. He also had a screen name that was easy to say and spell. It is amazing how many people use screen names that are unpronounceable! Oh, and also a shout out to Penny Dreadful (Danielle) who provided the vintage reference for Scrollos from his one and only “on panel” appearance from the 80’s. He was usually only a name but did make a very small cameo in one issue of the MOTU UK magazine and gave a look for his MOTUC appearance.
AFI: Well thanks so much for sitting down with us. Would you be up for a similar behind the scenes recap after the next two issues come out?
SDN: You bet! In the meantime be sure to check out all those great JAKKS Big Figs from your favorite brands like Star Wars, DC Comics, Nintendo, TMNT and Halo! Look for them at your favorite retailer! (shameless I know, but its my job! ;-P
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