Use Your Brain, Brainiac!
February 24, 2009

Or, when is green not the right green?

We all know Mattel has had some issues in the manufacturing of our favorite DC Comics characters. But the one that really puzzles me is how often the colors of the final product do not match the paint masters supplied by the Four Horsemen, or even the designs as seen in the comics.

Sure, they are the right color, per se. But they are not the right value of that color. And this should be a very simple process: your get a paint master, you match each base color to a Pantone guide, you figure out which parts are molded plastic and which are painted, you send these numbers off to the factory in China, and eventually you should get back some color chips that show the actual plastic that will be used, and what the base plastic looks like painted.  At this point you double check the samples against your original Pantone numbers AND the paint master. If they deviant, tweak them and send for new chips. This seems like a pain, but the manufacturing window is long enough that you should be able to handle at least 20-3 rounds of tweaks if necessary.But for some reason, what we see in the prototypes IS NOT what we get.

Case in point is the new Superman/Brainiac 2-pack shown at NYCC. The sculpts are great, but the green on the classic Brainiac (seen on the left)  is waaaaaay too blue, and waaaay too dark. In all the original comics he was more of an olive shade of green. Who makes the decision on what PMS was used? And is it too late to adjust it? See the original comic cover at right, and my quick photoshop mockup below left of what I think it should be. I just don’t understand going to the trouble of making these characters and not going all the way.


And speaking of color, check out the Superman on the right in the pic below, too.  If we’re going to get yet another Superman (albeit one with short hair with the new body) why not adjust the color on him, too, and give us a classic Superman in the shade of blue that the old comics used? The shade of blue that Christopher Reeve wore in the Superman movies? The shade of blue that was used for the Super Powers Superman figure? You get the picture. Fans don’t want to feel screwed with rebuying the same character,  so why not do everything you can to make it feel different?

How about it, Mattel? And if you need someone to double check your colors on any other upcoming figure, give me a call. Better to head these things off up front than let a substandard product go to market.

Jason "ToyOtter" Geyer
AFi Editor-In-Chief Jason Geyer has been part of the online pop culture world for nearly 20 years, having founded some of the very first toy sites on the web including Raving Toy Maniac, ToyOtter, and now Action Figure Insider. Along the way he helped pioneer online coverage of industry events such as San Diego Comic Con, E3, Toy Fair, and CES. He is also a former toy designer who is now a marketing genius. If he does say so himself. And he does.
Read other articles by Jason "ToyOtter" Geyer.





  • Jeremy SpyMagician says:

    And if Mattel needs a reminder of what substandard mis-colored product is, they need only go back and look at their JLU Booster Gold!

    Which they are correcting now…

    As the Otter says, “head these things off up front…”


  • elvis8batman says:

    Your right about the colours being off, even the boots are wrong compared to the comic, on that cover the boots are the same pink as his shirt and with a black trim.

    And again, I’m with you on the change to Supermans blue suit, that is a version they should do.
    In fact I would suggest every future re-release of Batman and Superman should have the colours changed slightly in tone just to make them stand out from each other. Especially with Batman, as there are so many different blues and greys you could use.

  • Jason Geyer says:

    A couple of things I want to clarify:

    I’m not really addressing the JLU color issues, as that’s a part of WB Animations style guide problems, not a Mattel mistake. I’ll have a blog at some point about my own crazy run-in with WB on color. It is not easy getting them to know their own properties! But DCUC is a different story, clearly.

    Also, that cover is of Brainiac’s first appearance, and his accepted “classic” outfit quickly did get refined to white boots, etc. They still need some deco on that belt, though:

  • The Tekwych says:

    This was one of the biggest issues at Palisades. Send paint samples to China. email that pantone codes. Fire off the digital CAD/CAM files with color mixtures impeded and when the test shots get back it is still not what you specced. I don’t know if this is an easy way for the factory to pad their profit or what but I do understand just how hard it is to get a color match out of China. For the smaller, ‘collector’ companies not having a permanent representative makes the final tweaks VERY hard. For bigger companies like Hasbro and Mattel that have a company rep on site this should be easier but still no guarantee.

    The next question for me is has anyone looked at building a modern production facility in northern or central Mexico?

  • Jason Geyer says:

    That’s interesting. When I did QSR toys we also got back color chips to approve before anything went to test shot. It was incredibly rare to get back something that did not look like we wanted it to.

    Of course, when you’re making 15 million pieces a month you have some leverage over the factory. 😉 I do remember our LOTR set at BK having about 25 running color changes due to the extended number of parts that month, and the compressed timeline. But that was the only time I recall needing to modify once things were in production.

    And yes, having someone on site is really imperative to getting the Chinese to toe the line on quality control.

  • Jason Geyer says:

    As an added note: when I was working in the factory they could make new color mixes on a dime, and new plastic mixes overnight. The biggest issues with the cost cutting was policing regrind and lead paint.

  • Ham Salad Ham Salad says:

    Springboarding off your second to last paragraph there…

    In the bygone Kenner days, they rarely reused a figure without changing the deco, unless it was a straight-up repackaging. Every item was different to some degree. That slowly changed over time, and now we see toy companies like Hasbro and Mattel including identical items in multiple SKUs. See any number of JLU 3-packs or Star Wars multipacks for examples.

    As a completist of the lines I collect, it is very annoying when dealing with a reused sculpt to try and figure out if an item includes anything new. Mattel drives me crazy with the endlessly reused Big 5 in JLU. If I’m spending $10+ dollars on something, I want to get as much new stuff as possible, even if it is only a new deco.


  • Wow.
    Your re-colored versions look perfect.
    Who do we have to payoff to get them to correct this?

  • Rod Keith says:

    Your re-coloured versions are way better than what we’re getting! They really need to be lightened up, as you have done. Make it so, Mattel!

  • MetallicA says:

    pongan muñecos de artistas del metal carajo, no me jodan

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