SuperFigures

 


S U P E R F I G U R E S


 

1977 was a watershed year for movie merchandising.  Uncertain of commercial success but convinced of its appeal to a younger audience, young Producer/Director George Lucas struck a deal with 20th Century Fox to retain license rights to his ambitious low-budget project – a film called Star Wars.  Lucas gamble of surrendering $500,000 of his directors fee has, to date, boosted his net worth to $5.5 Billion.

As rival studios in Hollywood fast-tracked similar properties (regardless of quality) to cash-in on the phenomenon, across the pond in the UK, principal photography was already well underway on a feature based on a comic-book character that pre-dated this sudden resurgence of interest in the Science-Fiction epic by decades, Superman.

Warner Communications, owners of DC Comics, were well-aware of the lasting appeal of the original Superhero and with the marketing strategy of Star Wars foremost in mind, would launch a similar campaign for the Man of Steel’s cinematic debut-

The movie merchandise was almost eclipsed by re-issues of existing comic-based material

The deal for Superman: The Movie however, became complex due to its nature as an independent film based on a pre-existing property.  Indeed, Warner Bros. paid for distribution and certain marketing rights but had no ownership of certain elements (Mario Puzo’s story, for example) so their exploitation of them was restricted.  Wherever this shortfall occurred in terms of merchandising, WB would simply substitute the comic-book based material they already owned.  This resulted in a comparatively modest campaign where the comic-based merchandise would form 50% or more of the eventual licensed product…

 


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The 1978 Mego Catalogues announcing the Superman 12 1/2″ Action Figure line

A perfect example of these limitations would be toys and the inevitable action figure line, easily one of the most lucrative aspects of the marketing package.  Whereas Lucas’ deal with toy company Kenner was all-encompassing, rival manufacturer Mego were not granted use of artwork or costumes from the movie for their Superman figures but were allowed to use actor likenesses.  The resulting products, therefore, are a curious combination of realistic portraits atop comic-based outfits –

Comic-Book ad and Neal Adams pass at art for packaging based on the Movie… 

 

Translated from the German of the rare print ad (above) as ‘Super Offer’ it may come as a surprise that the now-beloved line of toys based on Superman: The Movie were neither a big hit with its target audience, or indeed, its star, who apparently was not too enamoured with the idea of being further immortalised in plastic.

Already constrained by a licensing deal that limited usage of designs directly from the movie, it is now the stuff of figure-collecting legend that the Mego Corporation were forced to market the newest addition to their World’s Greatest Superheroes line as a mere representation of its cinematic counterparts rather than the faithful adaptations it would become so renowned for with later Sci-Fi properties.

While the 1/6 line may have been outfitted in garish costumes torn straight from the comic book page and packaged in boxes with similar slapdash art, Mego did not compromise on the headsculpts, where convincing (for the time) likenesses of the actors (created by Ken Sheller) topping off the patented muscular bodies were highlights of the collection.

Charged with maintaining the history of the fondly remembered company itself is the Mego Museum website, where recent interviews given by its former creative team reveal further interesting details about the conception and development of the Superman line – the first excerpt below from a chat with Harvey Zelman;

MM: Did you have a lot of input on lines like the Worlds Greatest Superheroes?

HZ: Oh yeah, it was one of my big lines.

MM: How did you choose characters?

HZ: You have to understand the relationship that we had with [ then president of DC Sol] Harrison (Editor’s note, Sol’s son Marty worked at Mego in the mid seventies) We get a lot of advanced comic books, we knew who all of the characters were, we knew Superman was going to be the big star and all the other characters were going to be “B” players.

The greatest thing we came up with in those days was the flying Superman on a string. I don’t remember what we called it, that was my item. I remember hooking up that up at a toy show and in those days we didn’t have what we do now, so here was Superman flying all over the place, that was really cool.

MM: With the individual characters, what were some of your favourites to work on?

HZ: Superman, I remember when they went out to the movie and they came back, they said “Chris Reeve, he [doesn’t like us] ” He didn’t want the licensing deal, I don’t know what the problem was, those stories are true.

MM: He didn’t want to be made into an action figure?

HZ: No he did not but what was really great and I remember sitting down with everybody and they lined up all the still frames from the movie and we got the insight of what was going on. Sitting there in the meeting saying :OK, we gotta do a Fortress of Solitude, we gotta do this, we gotta do that’ {Editors note, Actual notes from one of these meetings can be found in the Vincent Baiera interview) and that’s how great Mego was. We’d show Marty and say “this is what we want to do” and he’d say “Fine, do it” and we just cooked.

Reeve’s intriguing conflict with the toy giant takes on an even bigger twist due to the baffling involvement of a certain James Bond Producer as cited by Bill Baron – Mego VP of RND;

MM: You were on the set of Superman the Movie weren’t you?

BB: Yeah, Lenny Jacobs (The movie’s licensor) outfit ran me out there. Christopher Reeve was [really ticked off about his licensing deal] and he didn’t realize it wasn’t me [who had done the deal] it was Cubby Broccoli. I had to say “Whoa Superman!” (Laughs). He seemed like a really nice guy. Len said to me, “I’d like to take you out there and see what’s going on” This was the set of second movie. It was mainly a PR thing; I took some pictures but the next year Superman really kind of faded. It was a good franchise but you need good product too.

MM: Mego didn’t do anything for Superman II?

BB: We had a twelve inch line for the first one but for the second one, I can’t remember what happened.

MM: I have read that the first Superman the Movie didn’t do much for Mego sales.

BB: No, I don’t think it did, it was a loser…

 

In Europe, while the Pocket/Comic Action Heroes were easily found, a sole comic-based Superman figure stood in for the 12 1/2″ counterparts which apparently never made it across the pond.  Meanwhile  UK distributor Denys Fisher created the exclusive ‘Power Action Superman’ using a combination of the movie head and body from Mattel’s ‘Pulsar’ –

 

 


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Thirty years later events would conspire to redress the balance almost overnight, with various deals put in place and litigation settled to finally make the Superman series a unified property and, therefore, subject to licensing opportunities at last.  This, combined with deals made with the Reeve estate/family after his untimely passing would also permit use of his likeness not only with their blessing, but on the condition a percentage of sales would go to a worthy cause.

Which brings us right up to date and to the guide below, where the evolution of both the industry trends and demands of collectors are apparent as the product becomes more detailed and movie-accurate with each succeeding release.  Presented in height order, as of now this is the definitive guide for all official Superman movie figures commercially available.  Should one of the plethora of custom figures or statues produced in the meantime be what you are looking for then please go to the ‘Figures and Statues’ tab on the right hand bar, where they will have been documented exhaustively in postings.

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From left to right (click on links for related posts)

1). Mego ‘Pocket Superheroes’ Action Figure (1978)

2). Mattel DC Comics ‘Multiverse’ Superman The Movie’ Figure (2014)

3). DC Direct ‘Christopher Reeve as Superman’ Bust (2011)

4). Madelman ‘Superman The Movie’ Action Figure (1979)

5). DC Direct ‘Christopher Reeve as Superman’ Statue (2009)

6). Hot Toys MMS152 ‘Superman The Movie’ Figure (2012)

7). Hot Toys MMS207 ‘Evil Version’ (Superman III) (2013) Toy Fair Exclusive

8). Mattel ‘Movie Masters’ Superman 12” Figure (2011)

9).  Mego ‘World’s Greatest Superheroes’  Figure (1977-79)

10). Denys Fisher ‘Power Action Superman’  Figure  (1979)

11). NECA 1/4 scale Christopher Reeve as Superman Figure (2015)

12). Cinemaquette/Toynami ‘Superman’ Statue (2010)

13). Sideshow Collectables ‘Superman’ Premium Format Figure (2015)

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