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Comic Con Conversation – Mattel’s Scott Neitlich and Bill Benecke Part 3

We are back with Part III of our Comic Con Conversation with Scott Neitlich and Bill Benecke. After going full-on with Masters of the Universe in Part II we now switch over the the DC Universe. To help celebrate the big 75th Anniversary, we get into the nitty gritty with all things Green Lantern, Legion and the inevitable return to the Fourth World.

F: Well, I think that’s something that you guys are doing, not only with Masters with DC, is that you guys are putting out definitive versions of characters. Cause one think I know, just speaking of a line like Star Wars, there’s always something, with oh, this is the Han Solo with the greatest articulation ever, but his face looks weird. You know, and it’s like, ah, they keep, they keep getting you with that.

BB: Yeah, we’re really aiming to do the definite versions of these characters, and I think the fun is that is that when we do revisit a character, how can we make it still more definitive.

F: ha ha ha

Negative Man Variant

BB: You know, Negative Man wasn’t radioactive last time.

F: Oh, that’s true!

BB: So, it’s exciting to come to Comic Con, it’s really exciting to see everyone’s reaction and know that all the fans are excited about these things and they’re interested and they’re pursuing them and tracking them down and they’re trying to find out who we’re doing. There’s a lot of…

SN: Scanning the trademark database?

BB: Scanning the trademark database!

F: Those tricky fans…

SN: Freaking out one day when they see that Monster High is copyrighted, Clawdeen Wolf, and we’re like no, She-Ra’s Clawdeen is not a wolf. And we’re like, guys, there are copyrights that aren’t Master’s related!

BB: But there’s so much love and so much passion, you know, the whole team really feels that that’s duty to deliver on that. You know, when you go to to buy a He-Man figure, when you’re in Target looking for a JLU figure, when you’re at Toys R Us looking for a 2 pack or whatever else, we should be delivering the best possible figure. It’s the best Hal Jordan that we’re doing.

F: So let’s talk about the best Jonah Hex. You guys really knocked it out of the park with Jonah Hex.

BB: The Four Horsemen, their’s actually, is it okay if I tell a little bit of, I won’t go into too much detail?

SN: I’ll stop you if it’s something that… (laughs)

BB: Ok, so with wave 16 we were going back and forth with a couple of characters.

SN: A couple?

BB: And yeah yeah, that line was very much in flux. And when we decided to change from a seven character assortment to a six character, we wound up having two characters that we really liked who, one of which was all ready to go, or we could go with Jonah Hex and talking with the Horsemen they said, oh, you know what, this guy is completely done, this other character, character X, is completely done, he’s great, he’s cool, everyone loves him. We’re having so much fun with Jonah Hex we really think if you guys can hold on, Jonah Hex is going to knock your socks off. And that was good enough for us, so we slotted Jonah Hex in the final design.

SN: Not to mention there was a movie and there’ll be a DVD release and the figure will come out around that.

BB: And sure enough when that box of the initial cast came in, seeing his face, seeing the detail on the bandoleer and the feathers,

F: They got that right even – and the spurs!

BB: He’s, he’s Jonah Hex pure and simple. He is the comic book Jonah Hex.

SN: And I even bought the DC Direct one, remember a couple of years back?

BB: Which is terrific

Jonah Hex

F: I think everybody did, just cause it was like – oh, will we get another crack at Hex anytime soon?

SN: Yeah, cause I was like, finally a Jonah Hex! I didn’t think we were going to get to him for awhile.

BB: But he was one of those, and again, it’s, the themes in the waves sometimes change and morph and Jonah Hex made a lot of sense in the early theme, and then as it became a very grounded Batman theme, it was like, well, Jonah Hex has teamed up in Brave and the Bold, but he’s too good not to have. He’s an excellent character.

SN: And at the end of the day, you always want to do characters that are just universe builders. Not everything needs to be linked.

F: Is he going to keep, I mean, is his jacket an overlay? Is he going to keep his articulation underneath, like his ab crunch articulation or is that going to be a solid torso piece?

BB: I believe he has his ab crunch articulation.

F: Cool

BB: Yeah, I’ll have to double check, but I’m pretty sure he has the ab crunch. He’s great, I can’t wait.

F: Yeah, he and Mercury in series 16 were my two favorites, cause I absolutely love the metal men and the figures that you guys are doing of them. I mean, I have Iron on my shelf now but seeing Gold downstairs with the paint and the different snap on accessories – that is going to be one awesome team when it is fully assembled.

BB: And the die-cast fists!

F: And the die-cast fists, yeah – so much to them, it is hard to remember everything.

SN: Not on Gold though.

BB: Gold does has die-cast fists

SN: He does have die-cast fists? I thought we took those out.

BB: We all thought we took them out.

SN: I guess fans are going to get die-cast fists.

BB: All I know is every Gold I see has die cast fists.

F: (laughing) Bonus for us!

SN: He may ship with die-cast fists, he may not. I didn’t think we could get them in, but then they had already produced them or something.

DCUC Series 14

BB: Yeah, when we see the paint masters come in, and you know particularly Cornboy’s love of the metal man, he is a huge Metal Men booster.

SN: He’s a cool character booster! A Blue Beetle booster! A Booster booster!

BB: When you look at the figures, they look beautiful, they’re exactly what you think the metal men would look like, but it’s the eyes I think that tell the story.

SN: And don’t think, the Metal Men have never had figures before, correct?

F: No

BB: No, and the Doom Patrol and Metal Men, they’re just such terrific visuals they have such history to the characters, they’re so much fun to bring to life.

F: So that means we’ll stay on your case about Platinum, Tin, Lead, Elasti-Girl…

BB: (laughs) Yes, you are, and you would not be alone in staying on my case there. Yes, they will be coming, the Metal Men is definitely a team that we will finish. I think that we’ve got some pretty cool plans, we’re doing something a little bit different with upcoming waves that we can’t really talk about now…

SN: Talking about wave 18?

BB: Talking about 18 and sort of the thinking on ah, 19 and just you know, some strategic approaches.

F: Are you guys adopting a theme to kind of coincide with certain movie, or are you leaving that to the Green Lantern line and the Green Lantern Classic line? Is that going to permeate DC Classics?

SN: Most of our, I will tell you, most of the Green Lantern figures will be in, for 2011, will be in that Green Lantern Classics. There are actually, there’s a few that may creep into DC Universe, but because we are making such a strong statement with two definite Green Lantern Waves.

F: Right

SN: It lets us kind of scale back on the number we do and give room to other people like Metal Men, like with all the millions of other teams, Teen Titans, the JSA, JLA. But one of the exciting things about the Green Lantern Classics is in the second wave, one of the figures is going to be an original design, it’s going to be a Red Lantern.

GL Classics Maash

F: Designed by the Four Horsemen.

SN: Right. It’s actually much like in the first wave had, there’s two Sinestro corps members.

BB: In series two it’s the Red Lanterns’ turn.

SN: Both Maash and Low – both their heads and arms are in the package and they’re swappable. In two, there’ll be two Red Lanterns, same way.

F: Ooo, so Atrocitus?

SN: Hmm… Well, one of them will be a current Red Lantern from the comics, and one of them will be an original Red Lantern that the Horsemen are creating. And Geoff Johns is going to name the characters, give him an origin and put him in the comic books. So he’ll be a Mattel toy first and then a canonical character.

F: Oh, okay, so you’re dropping the toy form first?

SN: But, Geoff is going to approve the design and name the character and do whatever he want’s with him.

BB: We’ve been incredibly fortunate that we’ve got this terrific partnership with Warner Brothers and DC and working with the Horsemen, it’s a real tight group, and they gave us this incredible opportunity to design a character and sort of collaborate in a whole new way.

F: So how did the idea for the collaboration come up? I mean it’s something that I don’t think has happened before, right?

SN: Geoff’s a huge toy fan, and…

BB: He kinda likes comics too! (laughs)

SN: Yeah, I hear he likes comics, I mean, it’s kind of getting to the point where, you know, the inmates are kind of running the asylum?

F: Oh yes.

SN: Now it’s kind of, it’s very equatable to the 1970’s with the film brats, where you had like Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola and Lucas, all these people who were film fans, who grew up with film, and now went to film school who are now making movies. Well now you have people who grew up with toys, as opposed to the old guard which were designers and engineers, who would just, you know, could be working on household product..

F: Like a soda bottle?

SN: Yeah, anything, who were, well I’ve been given an order to design a doll, so fine I’ll make a doll.

F: Right

SN: Well now you have people who actually grew up with Masters, and Star Wars, and Transformers and Super Powers, and uh Secret Wars, who are now working at the toy companies making the toys. And you can see that we’re fans.

BB: Oh yeah.

SN: And that we’re doing them, I mean, you know, look at us doing all of these Super Powers, Golden Pharaoh, I mean come on! You know how awesome is that? (laughing) Sorry, I don’t even remember how I got to this, off on a tangent. Oh, Jeff right. So you’ve got the Geoff Johns, and you’ve got guys like, David Vonner over at Hasbro, you’ve got you know, Seth and Matt at Robot Chicken, and you know Bill and I and a couple of other guys on WWE that are such huge fans, and it’s kind of like there’s this little club of professional geeks and we all talk about toys. We email, we phone call, we have brunch, you know, Geoff and I, odd as it is, we try to grab lunch every couple of months, we just catch up. And we talk about stuff and how cool-

BB: It’s fun to just talk about what we love.

SN: It’s like, Mo-Larr came out of that. We had Seth and Matt in this very room and the Four Horsemen, and we were just throwing around saying how cool it would be to do a Mo-Larr? We should do a Mo-Larr! And now we are.
BB: We did a Mo-Larr.

SN: And that’s kind of how the whole Red Lantern, how the Horsemen created the Red Lantern. We were like, wouldn’t it be cool if the Horsemen created a Green Lantern enemy?

F: Right

SN: And it was like, yeah, do it!

BB: Yeah, exactly, everyone was sitting there thinking that sounds like a really good idea.

SN: Why don’t we do that? Yeah, so it’s not complicated, it’s just us throwing around ideas and seeing what sticks and what makes sense.

BB: Yeah, those little light bulbs going off, but I think, I gotta say he’s a terrific looking character.

SN: The Red Lantern? Yes.

BB: He’s a terrific looking character. So I think,

SN: I can’t wait to hear what they name him…

BB: Yes, he feels very organic to the DC Universe. When he gets worked into the books, he’ll feel like of course, he should be part of the books.

F: Right

BB: This is a character that makes a lot of sense, and plays his role within the universe of the story. And that’s what we want to see.

SN: But at the same time he totally looks like a Horsemen created character, I think.

F: Really?

BB: Yes, he has a very clear stamp.

SN: Yeah, I was like, oh my God, yeah, that’s so Cornboy right there and that’s Eric . (laughs)

BB: But it’s terrific that everyone is open to this kind of collaboration. You know that there is this kind of trust and it’s built slowly over many years that we all love these characters. No one sees this as a job.

SN: Well, sometimes… (laughs)

BB: Yeah!

F: At least between July 15th and 30th, right?

BB: Yes, yes, for just those two weeks a year.

Legion of Superheroes

F: It seems like you guys are getting to do a lot of things that didn’t seem possible before like the collaboration with DC. Like, the Legion 12 pack. What made you guys decide to go with a 12 pack instead of to start to push them in gradually?

SN: I think part of it is there are just so many of them, and if we just did them one at a time, you know, yeah maybe you do Brainiac 5 in a wave and three waves later you get Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl, and there’s also many iterations and designs of them. The classic looks from the Silver Age and the 70s, but also, you know we love the modern stuff that Geoff [Johns] and now Paul [Levitz] are working on.

BB: I mean how do you, how do you really pick one Cosmic Boy, one Brainiac 5, one Saturn Girl?

SN: And by no means is this set the beginning/end of Legion.

F: Right

SN: We still plan to do other, we could do several versions of Brainiac 5. And we also plan to do other Legion characters that aren’t in the set. This was just our way of really, we know that the Legion fans are a niche group and there are people who will buy anything Legion, and we wanted to give them something good to get it all started.

BB: We wanted to give the fans something that was really special. It’s another one of those things where we were just throwing around ideas and it came up with, wow, wouldn’t it be fun if we did it?

SN: Well it actually came up when we were walking around New York.

BB: On the streets of New York outside of a CVS Pharmacy,

SN: We were on our way to DC Comics, we were at New York Comic Con a few years back and we were going to DC for a meeting for approvals, and we were just yeah, we were just talking about how cool that would be…

BB: And I realized that I had forgotten my pen, so I needed to pick up a pen.

SN: So we went to CVS to buy a notepad and then we started writing down Legion characters who would be in this pack, and we brought that to DC on a scratch piece of paper we just wrote on the way here, what if we did this?

BB: And it was one of those things that, it’s the Legion. Why don’t we go, why don’t we play up that name and just go build a team, just go all out and then later, it really became what Legion should it be, who should it be?

SN: Who makes sense to be in the pack?

BB: And really we could design a 30 pack very easily, and then anything less than that it’s like, wow!

F: Did you guys have challenges just pushing that though approval internally as far as such a big box set?

SN: I mean, to be honest, well part of it was because we have Matty Collector now. Honestly, we couldn’t do that for retail, cause where were they going to put an almost 200 dollar set? But management actually came to us, there was a Cars set we did for Pixar, Speedway of the South, that was a huge 200 dollar set.

F: I remember that.

SN: And they were like, could you do something like that for DC, that’s kind of where it came from?

F: Wow, so that came from management?

SN: Management wanted us to find a way to do a very big set. So we said, well, if we’re going to do something that big it’s gotta be the Legion.

BB: Yeah, I mean what’s really cool is that our upper management really all the way up the chain is very supportive and really respects the collector and the collector market and doesn’t see it as a niche business or a small business.

SN: Very supportive. They’ve made it one of our priorities, one of our company priorities is to own the collector market.

DCUC Series 15

BB: If we’re going to play in this sandbox…

SN: We need to do it, best in show.

BB: We really need to do it right.

F: Wow

BB: And this applies to everything from Roboto gears to Legion packs

SN: To Matter Eater Lad having a mouth full of…

F: A big chaw of matter!

BB: Yeah, isn’t that great? I love that. We really wanted to get that one.

F: I noticed that when I came downstairs after the panel, I couldn’t believe it.

SN: And Superboy’s got the ring on, you know.

F: Yes!

SN: It’s also a great way to do a Superboy too.

F: So if the Legion 12 pack is successful, maybe there are other teams looking at large packs, guys like the Freedom Fighters, there are still a lot of unproduced All-Star Squadron characters, or teams that haven’t been started yet?

BB: That’s interesting, that’s interesting

SN: It’s always possible, but I think the Horsemen are going to kill us. (laughs) We wanted to have all twelve of them at the show, and we were lucky that we got five. They are so busy right now.

BB: Yeah, it’s one of those things, it sounds so exciting and so cool, oh yeah a 12 pack, that’s such a neat thing! And then it’s like, by the way…

F: That’s two waves of figures!

BB: In addition to that wave that you’re working on right now, that you have two more waves, and they come at the same time.

SN: Luckily they finished invisible kid very easily.

BB: Yes. He worked out

DCUC 16 Mercury

F: Yeah, that one didn’t take long

SN: Oh God, and I love the Invisible Jet Hot Wheels is doing, but we had that idea like, three years ago, and then they did the invisible jet and got all the credit. But I love it, it’s a great piece.

F: Yeah

SN: We’re still going to do it.

F: Right

BB: It’ll still be fun, and I think, we were looking at a lot of forums and lot of discussions, and as we talk about them – these things were planned out a long time ago. We really had a lot of the Legion figured out before this time last year.

SN: Yeah, God, this packs been in various forms of development for like, three years.

F: Wow

BB: It’s been a long time, kind of a weird time machine, that even though we’re announcing it now-

SN: It’s not even coming out until next April or May.

BB: Exactly, and we can look at discussions that have happened online over the last three months, the last six months, the last year, and you think, well, we really locked things down six months ahead of that, but it’s really exciting to read through the forums then and think that we kind of got the right choices.

SN: Even last week we were looking at a forum, you saw it, and almost every figure the fans said, if they did a Legion series this is what I’d want, and it was like, yep doing him and yep that’s the look we’re doing, and doing him and that’s the version we’re doing. And it was like almost every single one was exactly the the one we were doing.

BB: And reading it, I was real giddy and I ran over to Scott because I went back and forth on Cosmic Boy. Classic, classic pink costume? Grell era?

F: Yeah

BB: Talking internally to a couple Legion fans on some of the other teams, there were some, there were votes for the Grell costume as well, and then I just really loved the Lightle costume and thought that hasn’t been done and it’s a good looking suit.

F: Yeah

BB: And so to see that that was the suit that came out on top, okay, that’s terrific.

F: Yeah. Well, you guys did a good job of starting to create the rumble for it, because people, especially the Legion fans, kept latching on to when you would talk in interviews, oh there’s going to be big plans for the Legion, but I don’t think anyone expected a twelve – a whole twelve pack out of it.

SN: When you do something you’ve never done before, no one has a cognitive feel for it before that. It’s like no one, you can’t expect, they’re never going to do a twelve pack. Now they’re going to be expecting twenty packs. The Horsemen are going to kill me. (laughs)

F: Well, at least we got them to promise – are they going to hold you to the more New Gods and stuff coming up, because it’s awesome that we’re getting Legion, but I’m such a New Gods nut that…

BB: I think it’s a fair trade. And there’s, there is, um, I don’t know if I’ll name names right now…

F: Big Bear?

BB: It’s not Big Bear. There are I guess technically there are 6 and then there’s a seventh ah New God’s characters that I’m absolutely dying for. I think Apokolips is not complete without six of them. And I think there’s a seventh from New Genesis that needs to happen, and um…

F: Forever People and Female Furies!

SN: We’ll get to them.

BB: And the Horsemen have a whole laundry list of other characters that they want to do.

SN: We’re barely scratching the surface of New Gods, we’re only up to wave 15, this thing could go up to wave 100 and still not be done with everything.

GL Classics Series 1 Kyle Rayner

F: So you guys are working in the mode of full tilt? I know a lot of people are like, well, the original deal is over in 2012.

SN: We don’t even look at it. We think, we just keep going, we’ll let legal work it out.

BB: That’s for other people to decide.

F: Right

BB: But we’re going to just keep charging.

SN: We’re full speed ahead as if we’ve, and if anything, if thing’s change, they change, but we’re planning on just keep doing it.

F: Doesn’t feel like it’s going to anytime soon, to be honest.

BB: We’re all really happy.

*Whew! Development can take awhile! And we are not even finished yet, Part IV will be coming up soon.

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