What is it that drives the hate with He-Man redesigns?
Without a doubt, collectors and lovers of He-Man always fall back to the original 1982 designs as canon and untouchable. This is supported by sales and sales and more sales that prove those designs hold and stick. Any attempt to change, modify, or improve them results in massive fan outcry and hatred from the masses. What is it that drives this?
I recently wrote about Battle Lion and how joyed I was that I’ll be getting the armor pieces to upgrade my MOTUC Battle Cat to a 200x version. Fwoosh Staffers and followers then chastised me, calling me a fool and an idiot, almost banishing from the clubhouse (I saved myself by proclaiming that Toy Biz Marvel Legends are the best and that Hasbro sucks (although there are a pair of eyes glaring at me…)). OK, OK, I admit there are some aspects to the 200x line that were failures. To be honest, the anime style of the characters for the cartoon were a bit ahead of their time, but if we look at Justice League, JLA, most of DC’s cartoons, Avengers, and current Marvel stuff, that “anime” style runs rampant. And let’s be honest, the 200x storyline in the cartoon is 100 times more watchable than the drivel of ’80s (anyone that says otherwise really needs to watch them again and then have a good look in the mirror).
But are the designs that different that there should be so much hatred? Not really. In most areas 200x is almost canon. There are changes in costumes, vehicles, and equipment, but most of them are minor. Some of them did not work, like He-Man’s crotch pack. I get the need to carry one’s wallet around, but this could have been done differently. And Man-At-Arms had a rather large change, but the basic elements were there. Character designs really didn’t change that much from the ’80s to the ’00s. And if I go back to the Four Horsemen designs that 200x were based on, the designs are grittier, modern-comic and fantasy relevant, but still “the same.” Why the hate?
I looked at the cartoons. It must be something in the story telling. And, yes, there are some changes, but none of them so redonkulous that they warrant people’s outright hatred of the designs. After all, it’s not like someone went and redesigned He-Man and gave him some sort of late ’80s or early ’90s costume and put him in new adventures in outer space. Yeah, they gave Battle Cat some updated armor, and they made the stupid power sword, and the Four Horsemen own that was maybe not the best design. But even that sword found its way into MOTUC.
Which is the interesting part.
Many of the 200x designs did find themselves in MOTUC, a sign that these designs were good. The updated Whiplash head is a prime example. In fact, most of the updated monster heads are light years better than the original ’80s designs. With that, 200x does what its goal should have been: improve on designs from 20 years ago. Sure, there were some minor flaws, but the update to He-Man’s chest strap in 200x saw its way into MOTUC along with many other design changes. And let’s face it, more designs needed to sneak their way in; has anyone seen some of the weapons from MOTUC? Talk about plastic-toy looking.
Where does that leave the New 52? Right now my first impression and comment is what a load of crap, and no, I haven’t read the series. I’m certain Keith Giffen and Axel Gimenez are doing the story justice and there is a logical explanation for the designs. But I’ve seen a few pics and my initial thoughts are that these new designs are less than great. He-Man in full armor? And it’s brown? What the hell is that? And I’ve seen another He-man drawing with a silver harness. And then I have to wrap my head around it. Brown He-Man is wearing King Randor-like armor and the traditional He-Man design (that I’ve seen) isn’t great but it still holds the aesthetic of the original costume. As do most of the characters. The question is, are they an improvement?
And I think this is where the great divide is. Do the 200x or the New 52 represent an improvement over the original designs? I’ll argue that the 200x designs do. They stick to the original designs, giving them a modern facelift, adding character and details to otherwise very bland designs. Sure, it’s small things like more mechanics and wiring to armor or battle damage, but they give the designs that “wow” factor. When I look at New 52 designs, I find myself asking, what is the point? It’s a redesign for the sake of redesign.
200x doesn’t fail in the design. In fact, it succeeds tremendously! The control art that the Four Horsemen produced is simply fantastic, and makes an excellent update of traditional iconic costumes. The cartoon even remained true to those designs. The failure, the failure was in the toys, and while they captured the look of the designs, the “all over the place” scale and crappy articulation and difficulty in finding them doomed them. leaving a huge bitter taste of spunk in collectors’ mouths when it came to the line. These failures were corrected in MOTUC, except MOTUC decided not to take the next step and update the base figure’s sculpts, only articulation, and the costumes were not given modern design that they could benefit from.
In all of this we start to touch on the real issue at hand: deviation from the iconic look. When a decision is made to deviate from the original design and it is a radical change, the collector or “customer” feels like someone is taking a crap on their nostalgia. It’s like Mattel became personified, walked into said person’s home, got on the kitchen table, and took a huge dump during the middle of the family dinner. This is upsetting. As a toy collector I’ve been there. As a comic collector I’ve been there. And I often find that modern drawing techniques and modern sculpting will give us a 100 percent better product than that we grew up with — when done properly.
MOTU wins. Those classic ’80s designs will continue to drive the success of the property, making it successful time and time again. Any new toys or product will always have to be produced with those aesthetics in mind. Should there be a deviation, it should be subtle and always with respect to the original designs. Otherwise, the designs will find themselves spending time in a cold dark corner of toy-collector hell.