Quick story about Masters of the Universe and I.
It was 1981 and I was six. My mother took me to this new toy castle, this oasis, called Toys R Us, built not ten minutes from us. Huge into Star Wars and the associated action figures, I was excited to see what I could find.
My father suggested I get a microscope.
All thoughts of looking at my own hair roots at 60X power vanished when I saw a set of strange new figures at Toys R Us. They were big, and they were like….monsters…and warriors and stuff. One of these bizarre creatures in particular caught my eye and, though she said they were ugly and thought I should follow my father’s advice and get a microscope, my mother bought the big monster warrior guy and I went home with Skeletor that day. Enjoy it, my mother said; she wasn’t going to buy any more of "those ugly things."
She bought many more.
A year later I landed in the hospital with acute appendicitis. After one surgery and a three-stay, I was wheeled out of Bronxville Lawrence to the parking lot where I eased into the family car and we headed, not home, but to Toys R Us where Man-At-Arms, Battle Cat, and the Battle Ram eased my suffering.
What? I was a good boy.
After a brief series of re-releases, Mattel makes a full commitment and returns He-Man and the Masters of the Universe to action figure pegs everywhere. Like many of my geek brethren, I dutifully collected all the new He-Man figures, despite some internal misgivings about some of the choices in style, wherever I could find them.
Find. That’s become a key word in the relationship between Mattel and collectors.
I’ve been extremely critical of Mattel in other places, but I understand and respect the relationship Daniel and Jason have with the company and some of its personnel, so I keep my Mattel thoughts to myself when I’m here. Collectors are well aware of Mattel’s problems, be it with distribution or quality control, and since this is Men of Action and not a flame forum, I’m not here to attack, but I would like to mention one thing because I think it’s illustrative of why the romance between Mattel and nerdom is often so rocky.
That is Scott "ToyGuru" Neitlich, Mattel brand manager and liaison between the company and geeks for Masters of the Universe and the DC lines. This picture was taken at last year’s San Diego Comic Con in support of the launch of Mattel’s new on-line store, MattyCollector.com, and Masters of the Universe Classics, a high-end return to the roots of Eternia’s Heroics and Evils.
I don’t know Scott at all; I’ve never spoken to him. After seeing this picture, I learned the shirt was created by He-Man.org as a fundraiser. So, with that in mind, I can only imagine Scott thought it would be funny, and would show solidarity with the fans and with He-Man.org, to wear this shirt at one of the biggest toy events of Nerdvana ’08.
However, when I first saw this picture, my first thought was this: Fuck you.
Because, yeah, the line did die, but the "their" what done it wasn’t collectors.
That’s all I’ll say.
And that’s the problem. Since the failure of the 2002 He-Man line, I think collectors have felt Mattel A) doesn’t learn from their mistakes and, perhaps worse, B) sometimes like to stick it to the fanbase because they know kids and Hot Wheels Guys pay their salaries.
Cut to today and I think, while A is changing, B may have been born more of naivete regarding how sensitive and angry nerds can be than of any actual disregard or, certainly, malice.
But, for now, back to me.
Couple my frustration with Mattel’s perfect storm of calamity with what I saw as a direct slap in my face from Mr. Mattel himself, and I resigned myself to abandon my lifelong love of Masters of the Universe just when it seemed the definitive versions of these ugly big monster warriors were headed to fruition.
Sure, I told people I liked the 2002 figures better. You may have seen me say it. I was lying.
Still, it would be no Masters of the Universe Classics for me, I said. And that was that.
AFI Blogger Jeremy "SpyMagician" Sung is one of my very favorite people on the Internet. He and I have had a great many action figure lines on common over the years and, generally, we see eye-to-eye on all things toy. Shortly before the release of the first two Masters of the Universe Classics figures, He-Man and Beast Man, Spy got hold of a set and reviewed them for us here on Men of Action. It wasn’t just the pics, which made the figures look great, it was Jeremy’s tone in reviewing them. He’s always so damned positive. It was clear he loved the new figures, and he definitely loved they what meant to him.
I began to crack.
Then, He-Man and Beast Man were released to resounding…confusion, frustration, canceled orders, lost tracking numbers, delayed shipping, and smashed packages.
Yep, I thought. That’s about right.
No MOTUC for me.
Then Mattel showed pics of the upcoming Mer-Man. Interchangeable heads, huh? Then He-Man.org posted a video review of Skeletor (my first love, remember). Then Mattel announced Faker for March 2009.
Fine. Mattel gets one chance from me. Just one. I’ll order He-Man and Beast Man. But, if MattyCollector screws it up or if the figures arrive with paint splashed all over them or an ass where their heads should be, that’s it.
I placed the order on 20 December.
I got a shipping confirmation on 23 December.
The figures arrived on 10 January.
They were immaculately packed.
I opened them.
They are glorious.
There were three big unlicensed properties when I was a kid: G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Masters of the Universe. I loved them all, I collected them all as a child, and as an adult but, for me, there’s always been an added bit of magic surrounding He-Man. That combination of monsters, magic, swords, sorcery, lasers, technology, and a bit of silliness has always made "Masters", as my mother would grow to call it, very fun, very toy, and that’s always meant more to me than real world accuracy or hyper-detail. I’m in, Mattel, don’t make me regret it. Let’s get on King Randor and Trap Jaw ASAP and leave Man-E-Faces and Sy Klone for the 15th of whenthehellever.
By the way, I eventually did get a microscope. Meh.