The world is a very weird and wonderful place sometimes, and on occasion a convergence occurs where nerdiness, desire, design, theft, collecting, and multiple brand infringement combine to create something beautiful. About five years ago, before the craziness of Lego Dimensions, before Lego Cuusoo brought us the Back to the Future DeLorean building set, back before Lego started acquiring every license under the sun, I was deep into reconnecting with the Masters of the Universe brand and started day dreaming about what it would be like if there had been He-Man Lego sets released back in the 80s. I had my fair share of Castle Lego as a kid, and as much as I enjoyed those sets, I always wished that there was a Castle Greyskull set or Masters of the Universe minifigs. I’ve been a Lego Maniac since I was about five or six and the idea of branded sets has always been on my mind in one form another. When I wasn’t building my own version of Airwolf, KITT from Knight Rider, or pining after a tiny Trap Jaw minifig, I was marveling at my friend Darrel’s homemade X-Men Lego creations that he whipped up with the help of a hot glue gun, sharpies and model paint.
So, during a lull one day at work, I hopped on the google image search and started searching for any fan-made Masters of the Universe Lego sets or figures. I stumbled onto the CG artwork of Gregos Thomas, a brilliant digital designer who rendered a set of 16 MOTU minigifs and mocked up a collector’s checklist form much like the ones that came with every official blind bag Lego minifigure. The execution of these designs is so spot on that’s amazing that they were just a pipe dream…
As cool as these designs are, it was also a bummer because I knew that these would never exist. Even if Mattel and Lego joined forces on the Masters of the Universe license, there was no way that these designs, no matter how perfect they were, would ever be used. A more realistic goal would be the potential of sets based on the eventual movie that has been rumored to be in development for years. Much like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Lego sets that we got a few years ago that featured first, the designs of the recent animated series, and then the live action films. As neat as those sets were, they weren’t the classic TMNT designs (either the 80s cartoon or the comics.) So these MOTU designs were tucked away in a bucket list file in the back of my brain and promptly forgotten about. That is, until my good bud Ed Dexter of the AEIOU and Sometimes Why blog recently introduced me to the burgeoning BootLego scene.
Though I was aware of bootleg Lego sets for awhile, I always thought of them as strictly lower quality copies of existing Lego building sets and minifigs. Since official Lego minifigs can be hard to score without dropping a lot of cash on expensive sets, I knew there was a bootleg market that aimed to fill the void for folks who wanted affordable figures. For instance, to score a set of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Lego figures you had to invest in three separate building sets at a cost of roughly $75. Though pound for pound you would be getting $75 worth of Lego (they do price sets based on weight after all), if you only wanted the minifigs, that’s a whole lot of extra Lego and a lot of wasted money for four little toys. Sure, you could snag them on eBay, but most sellers, at least at the time, wanted upwards of $30 just for the Turtle minifigs. But the bootleg figures? Well those would only set you back about $7 for the set.
A couple weeks ago though, after Ed shared some of his recently purchases including some obscure and never produced minifigs for characters like Freakazoid and Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, I had to do some investigating for myself. After digging through a couple different seller accounts I sat starring at the computer screen dumbfounded. Mixed in with a bunch of obscure Marvel, DC, and Doctor Who minifigs were a couple of auctions for Masters of the Universe minifigs. Not only that, but they were apparently based on the designs of Gregos Thomas!
As they were ridiculously cheap ($7.95 for a set of 8 minifigs, shipping included) I immediately bought both sets, 16 figures in total, and then waited patiently for them to arrive from China. $15.90 and two weeks later I received a small bubble-wrapped package in the mail.
Here, in the flesh (so to speak), was a set of toys that just should not exist. There are so many weird layers to these toys making their way to my mailbox five years after I stumbled on the artwork online. Not only are these (more or less) infringing on Lego and Mattel trademarks and copyrights, but the designs were surely stolen from Gregos Thomas. The fact that the bootleggers took the time and effort to not only accurately reproduce the mold of all the individual heads, helmets, weapons and armor, but to match the colors and paint the figures (front and back) is astounding. The individual pieces of armor and helmets also have paint applications which is just crazy. Add to this the fact that the sets are amazingly affordable and, well, it’s just unreal.
I’ve already asked the question about the worth of certain bootlegs (like recent Chinese bootleg “vintage” Transformers complete with boxes, stickers, and instruction sheets), and I have to say that when it comes to reacquiring vintage toys that are worth astronomical amounts of money on the collector’s market, I’m totally fine with the practice. For the most part Hasbro isn’t servicing my desire for G1 Transformers, so why not pick up a bootleg or two to display? Trust me, the second that Hasbro releases a vintage style Sideswipe, complete in box, I will be buying it. Until then, I have to hope a bootleg pops up. But what about these bootleg? For $16 I had to pick them up because I just couldn’t believe they were real until I held them in my hand.
The minifigs are pretty amazing. They don’t feel cheap at all, the pieces all fit together roughly as well as any official Lego minifigs, and the design and detailing are spot on. But I’m not sure quite how to feel about these at the end of the day. It’s so weird to have a yearning for something, to see an artist imagine them, and then to all of a sudden have them in hand. My experience with this in the past has largely been limited to intangible things. Like the realization of the fan-made video game G.I. Joe Attack on Cobra Island that takes a side-scrolling platform game like the X-Men Arcade game, but sets it in the very toy/cartoon accurate world of G.I. Joe. As cool as this game is, having it exist in the digital realm makes it feel more real in a way. Like, if a bootleg of something of this magnitude does exist, it should be digital.
These Masters of the Universe minifig though, feel very unreal because I can actually play with them. Have you ever comes to this crossroads of fantasy and reality as a collector?