Masters of the Universe is a toy line that I never thought I’d be drawn back into. In the scheme of things, my support for Masters of the Universe was short lived as a kid. He-Man was something that was dear to me when I was 6 years old. And although I held onto my original 80’s collection for decades, the truth is that I was only actively into this I.P. probably until the end of 1985. I showed up, of course, for the 1987 Dolph Lundgren movie, thinking that maybe it would be the rebirth of He-Man, but we all know how that ultimately turned out.
Fast forward 32 years to 2019 where Mattel announced the Masters of the Universe Origins line for 2020. These figures feature articulation at every relevant joint while maintaining the scale and design-direction of the original 80’s toys. But the key here was that Mattel was re-introducing a toy line meant for retail at a price point that beat most other comparable toy lines current pricing. This meant that both collectors and kids could see these on pegs and pick them up with minimal trouble at a somewhat affordable cost per figure. And other than a few distribution hiccups here and there, Mattel has generally done a good job maintaining this operating model for several years now and across multiple waves.
It wasn’t long before the Mattel Creations website got on board, releasing exclusive figures and sets for Origins collectors who wanted some deep-cut figures such as “Mini-Comic Tri-Klops”, or the amazing “Castle Grayskull Accessories” meant to enhance the now-classic Castle Playset with add-on parts. But the other day a new release was announced leaving many collectors feeling that Mattel had finally jumped the shark by pushing the envelope into the boutique toy realm much too far.
Announced for tomorrow, 09/15 at 9 a.m. PT Mattel Creations will make a new 40th Anniversary He-Man boxed set available for pre-order everywhere.
At a limit of 2-per-customer fans can order the set containing 4 versions of He-Man, each with vac-plated metallic weapons across the uniform “origins” body sculpt. Each of the four toys represent the 4 iterations of the character as seen in animation over the years. In many ways this is a great box set and fulfills much of what the MOTU O line was intended to be from the beginning. The vac-plated weapons are a nice addition that adds to the special nature of the release, and the promotional images of the detailed packaging really informs collectors that a lot of love went into this set.
At a glance it all looks like a terrific add-on for this “back to retail”, affordable, long-term toy line meant for collectors and kids alike. Until collectors look away from the eyecandy promotional images and realize that Mattel Creations has solicited this set for $150.00. And as with all things, all of the complimentary and exciting observations we made above can just as easily be spun into an argument indicating why this price is simply way too much to ask for this set.
But we won’t do that here. Instead, we can make a comparison as to what this line was always intended to be. The MOTU O toy line began as a noteworthy project by a mass-manufacturer to return toys to a level of availability and affordability that would bring kids back into toy aisles. Masters of the Universe Origins figures began distribution at $14.99 a figure – obviously significantly more than the $5.00 retail price for a He-Man toy back in 1983, but still fairly affordable by today’s standards for a figure of its size and articulation. Origins was meant as a rebuke to the growing “boutique toy market” of $50 two-packs and $35 Deluxe Ultimate toys proliferating throughout the hobby. But here, Mattel is now using existing tooling on a standard Origins body to release a box set that amortizes to $37.50 a figure and even more – for four figures that will very likely make their way out to retail on individual cards outside of this “exclusive release”.
The Origins line struck at the right time and the right headspace for many collectors to return to He-man as an I.P. W1C has also been happy to support this line the whole way so far – at retail, through distribution, through online channels and also the aftermarket as a buyer and seller. But much of that support has come from the willingness to help the product in its mission to move toys away from boutique outlets and back into toy aisles where parents might be willing to “just grab one for their kids”. But Mattel Creations has now created a situation where there is lingering doubt as to whether or not this line can maintain the thesis that it is “for everybody” as opposed to “for Gen-Xer wallets only”.
The box set itself looks fun, and Mattel has manufactured figures with sturdy joints and quality sculpts for some time now, so I’m sure these will feel great in-hand. And while this boxed set will most certainly have aftermarket legs down the road as well, it remains to be seen how the core MOTU O audience responds to this set when it launches tomorrow on the Mattel Creations website.