He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is arguably Mattel Toy’s most successful action figure series ever! At the height of its popularity in the mid-1980’s, you couldn’t go into a store without seeing some sort of merchandising tie in. Whether it be lunchboxes, backpacks, bed spreads, clothing, the list goes on. He-Man was so popular that he remains a pop icon today, or those who did not grow up during the boom days of the battle for Eternia know the name, He-Man.
In the early turn of the century Mattel brought back their in–house cash cow with a brand new series of action figures designed and sculpted by the well respected “The Four Horsemen” (a team of four known for their extensive resume and quality in the field of action figure making). Mattel Toys even accompanied the action figures with a well done stylized animated series. However, the action figures and animated series only lasted a couple of years at best. What went wrong?
For starters: distribution. The figures were very difficult to find at retail and when you actually were fortunate enough to find them on the toy store shelves, the only characters left were odd costumed versions of He-Man and the evil Skeletor. I personally feel Mattel Toys marketed the action figure re-launch all wrong from the get go. There is no question that a large scale toy line cannot survive alone on the collector’s market. However, I feel Mattel Toys under estimated the intelligence and desires of the children. Children don’t need 8 different He-Man action figures. They need his allies and enemies to battle against but they were no where to be found because the few that were included in case assortments were snatched up by collectors.
After the unfortunate failure of the Masters of the Universe re-launch, Neca toys continued working with “the Four Horseman” by making statues of many of the characters fans wanted to see redone in scale with the Mattel Toys action figure line. However, no articulation was involved. They looked great on a shelf but were priced higher then the action figures and were much more fragile. They are certainly a collector only type of item.
At the New York Comic Con 2008, out of nowhere, Mattel Toys announced another attempt at revisiting the world of Eternia. The details are not fully fleshed out but it appears “The Four Horsemen” will be involved and the series will be targeted more towards collectors.
Could this attempt to bring back the Masters of the Universe toys again be too little too late? I know for me it is. I was very much into the revamp of Masters of the Universe and hunted down the action figures like the rest of the collectors and even at times paying higher prices on the secondary market. I’ll be honest; I do not want to go through it again. Even if the figures are easier to find, I already have a bin full of figures that have the re-imagined aesthetic to these beloved characters and I don’t need another collection of them. Perhaps, if Mattel Toys released the Neca Toys statues as action figures, I may purchase them to finish off the collection I already invested so much time and money into.
Sorry Mattel, you lost me by not doing this right the first time. However, I wish you luck and hope you have much success. Just make sure you know what your intentions are with this pop culture hero before you start any new campaign because three strikes and you’re out.