We caught up with Brian Flynn from Super7 again at the tail end of the ThunderCats Ultimates! Wave 4 preorder to discuss the new figures, the future of the line, and the shipping of waves 2 and 3. If you haven’t preordered from Super7 directly, do so now here before the cut off date of 16 October 2020. Alternatively, these figures are still available at Big Bad Toy Store or Entertainment Earth.
TC.org: Hi Brian! Time for another Q&A about ThunderCats Ultimates! Super7 revealed Wave 4 last month after a long wait. How does it feel to have 16 figures revealed already?
BF: Hey, how’ve you been? To be honest, it feels like we’ve only just started! Does that answer your question?
TC.org: It sure does. It’s exciting to think that while we’ve seen the first 16, that there’s double that already planned and more to come. Talking about plans, your original announcement at Power-Con in 2019 had Wave 5 scheduled for October 2020. With everything that’s going on in the world, delays are understandable, and recently you updated the schedule saying there will now be a preorder every 4 months. Tell us more.
BF: The scenario in the beginning was of course to have them quarterly. But as we progressed we realized sometimes things go faster and sometimes things go slower. I don’t like putting out too many waves before you get another one. We’ve worked it out that when we’re really on top of it, it takes about 8 months to get a wave completed. So that’s what we expect the timeline to be like going forward. You’ll never be out more than 2 waves at a time. As of now with Wave 4, you only have one wave in hand, and it is a lot to ask; and we understand. It’s a reasonable expectation to get Wave 2 in hand before offering you another one. So that is how it will be going forward.
TC.org: Before we jump into the new wave, in our last interview we touched on Wave 2 and its current shipping date planned for December. In the interview with TheFwoosh, though, you explained why it may only come out in January or February. Will you be sharing photo updates of production samples along the way? We’re hungry!
BF: Wave 2 so far should be shipping round about January, so that it can be in hand in February 2021. Wave 3 will be ready in February to ship, but because of the Chinese New Year, they’ll only be shipped when they come back in March, so it will probably we shipped out to collectors in April 2021. As we go along we will do a much better job at showing test shots, samples etc. along the way and do better at communicating the progress. We don’t want it to be like you’ve paid for it and then it is dead silence until it ships. We know it helps seeing these figures during the production cycle.
TC.org: You’ve also announced that Wave 3 has been pulled from the Mattel factory, and has joined Wave 4 at your factory. 2021 is going to be a busy year with releases by the sound of it.
BF: Oh yes, there is going to be a lot of cool stuff coming in 2021. A couple of really unexpected things.
TC.org: Time to dig in to the new reveals. First up, you’ve revealed the very first unique character that had never before been made in toy form: Pumm-Ra, one of Mumm-Ra’s earliest disguises! Who chose this character, and how can we buy them a well-deserved beer?
BF: It’s really a group discussion. We talk about what hasn’t been made, what we’d like to see made and so on. The further we get, the more opportunity we’ll have to do previously unreleased characters. But I think we still have to make some of the main characters in the meantime.
TC.org: Out of the all the unmade characters that fans have longed for, what made Pumm-Ra stand out as the one to do first?
BF: I just think we talked about if it would be cool. The more we talked about it, the more it progressed. With the Mumm-Ra the Ever-Living sized head it was a direct crossover to Wave 2, and that was a natural progression of connecting the lines. We were just talking to ourselves about that scene and then we said well what if we scaled up the head, and everybody was going like “whoah!” It gives it another layer which makes it a fun playout.
TC.org: Pumm-Ra’s communicator accessory looks great, and the wrapped Sword of Omens is iconic. A fisted Claw Shield is also included. Can we assume that it is swappable with the other figures?
BF: I would think so, but I’d need to double check. I can’t imagine it won’t be. It’s not like I have seen it yet and checked it in hand that it does, but I can’t see why not.
TC.org: Please tell us about his robes. He’s pictured with soft goods, which look really detailed. How are they being constructed? And will there be a plastic option?
BF: It’s similar to Mumm-Ra’s robe in that it is outlined with wire. We don’t have a plastic option right now. The funny part is that plastic robes is probably one of the most expensive things to make. Not that it’s the reason we’re not doing it, but it limits the character a lot when it comes to articulation. With the way the fabric option flows and falls, it makes more sense for the character and the playability of it.
TC.org: Moving on to the next villain, we finally have Monkian to complete the original trio of Mutants (before Vultureman arrived a few episodes later). A more ferocious side is highlighted in both of his head sculpts. Did you consider a more neutral, less toothy expression for him?
BF: Uhm, well, we just thought what we would think a base Monkian would look like, and what his emotional side would look like. That was sorta like Monkian in repose for us.
TC.org: There have been some concerns about this less ferocious face, in that his chin is kind of buried. Are the head sculpts locked at this point, or could you look into adjusting it?
BF: We always take fan feedback to improve things where we can, investigating what we could do if the figure justifies it. So we can look into that.
TC.org: Monkian’s blaster accessory resembles a two-handed flame-thrower seen in the episodes “Exodus” and “Fireballs of Plun-Darr”, but with the handle oriented differently. Do you take liberties with the weapons at times because of the practical aspect of them and how they work with toys? Or is this accessory meant to be a direct reference to something in the show?
BF: It’s definitely meant to resemble its cartoon counterpart, but quite honestly, when we look at the pieces and designs and talk about it, somebody may point out that the handle is off, and we have to make it practical. The goal is to make it right but in some instances it’s off so we discuss it.
TC.org: Now that we finally have Monkian, should we assume Vultureman is in Wave 5, or are we in for another surprise?
BF: *Laughs* I can’t say anything about it. You’re probably going to ask about Bengali next, right?
TC.org: We’ll get to him a little later.
BF: Well, it would remiss to say we’re not talking about Vultureman. And I’m sure you’re in for another surprise.
TC.org: Moving along to Snowman. What a great choice! You know, now that you’ve made made him, that Snowmeow is already on everybody’s lips, so let’s get right to it! Is Snowmeow an option? And is it as simple as asking for the Battle Cat molds from Mattel?
BF: We have to take it one step at a time. Of course we would like to get to him, sure. But it is not around the corner. It’s not quite the same as asking for the Battle Cat molds. When we do it, we want to make it correct.
TC.org: Snowman seems huge. After Slithe, this is your second bulky character in the line. Since you seem to be pumping out large characters with ease, scale doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore. You’re clearly not limited to the basic MOTU buck, right?
BF: In the beginning we were building characters off the MOTU buck, but since then every single piece is custom. When it makes sense, you want to make the figure look right. Sometimes there’s some reuse. But the more we go into it, the less reuse there is. These characters are all very different in shapes and sizes.
TC.org: Snowman’s vintage helmet is perfectly replicated here, while the shield and weapons are both cartoon- and toy-inspired. Are his ice weapons going to be a translucent plastic, or are they painted to look like ice?
BF: They will be translucent with some paint.
TC.org: Balancing what you think will look good in an action figure with fan expectations of cartoon accuracy must be tough. Is it a difficult task to please fans when it comes to choosing what to include, what to leave out, and how to style a figure?
BF: Yes and no, it all depends on the character. I bet you’re going to ask about Lynx-O’s Braille Board next?
TC.org: Ha! Almost.
BF: The reality of it is that if you get into the nitty gritty, this is how we want it, and it doesn’t mean that it is not accurate, but it may not match exactly what you thought it would be.
TC.org: So let’s clarify this once and for all. How would you describe the style you’ve chosen for the Ultimates! line of ThunderCats? Cartoon accuracy? Or a deliberate mixture of cartoon representation blended with how characters were treated in the MOTU Classics line, aka being “classicized”.
BF: There are limitations in producing this type of figure. If you wanted a perfect replica, you’d be better off making a cold cast porcelain of the characters. We do strive to keep the characters matching the cartoon, but sometimes when they are, like you say “classicized”, there are minor differences. We’re trying to make these characters look and feel correct—both emotionally and physically. You can look at a character and immediately know this is Lion-O or this is Snowman, because of that connection you have with them.
TC.org: Right, for example, Snowman comes off as having a darker blue on the prototype but a lighter hue in the show. You can notice the subtle differences and still recognize that it’s very much Snowman.
BF: In some cases like this, you get into a whole lot of “Which generation copy are you looking at?”, “Which cel are you looking at?” and so on. The cel you have might have Snowman’s colors appear as light blue, but when they photograph it, the blue is a different shade. A lot of times things evolve. Paint is also very subjective and depends on who you’re talking to. One might interpret it as a light blue, others may say it’s dark, somebody could say it’s blue with a hint of purple while somebody else says its blue with a hint of red. It’s not to say a lot of times people will say it’s not correct.
TC.org: In terms of articulation, there’s been requests to add double jointed elbows, knees, etc. Will you stick with the basic buck that you’re using to have uniformity in this line?
BF: I personally dislike double jointed elbows and knees. I know that it works much better for toy photography, and you can get lots of dramatic poses out of them. It allows great range of motion, but visually not as appealing. The way they look sculpted, especially from the side, you can see that they have lost space and sculpt room around the joints. You can’t help but see the articulation more clearly there than with the single joints. We try and hide articulation where possible like the bicep swivel, single ball joints instead of double ball joints, etc., just so that you don’t see the articulation. Certain things can’t get past, but our aim is to hide these but still to get as much range of motion. It’s harder at the waist when somebody does not have something to cover it up. On Snowman, for example, when the sleeves extend over the elbow, it limits the range somewhat but the articulation disappears. We can make the ankles disappear on the ThunderCats themselves, but to get a rocker in there for Snowman is more difficult. It’s a fine line.
TC.org: Back to Snowman, whose name popped up quite a few times on our forums as fans speculated about this wave. You’d obviously already planned this long ago, but do you visit the forums to see what fans are discussing? And would you consider having the fans vote in a poll for who could be next, or is that something you’d leave for much later in the line.
BF: I mean obviously we pop in from time to time, try to listen in general as to what the fans are discussing. I get many DMs about color choices on Instagram, but people wouldn’t complain if they didn’t care. It’s almost more frustrating when it is 95% right than 75% right. People want it better, and when it’s valid, we take note, but often we need to split the feedback on whether it is actual valid critique or just a personal opinion and preference. A poll would be super cool, but not right now.
TC.org: You mentioned before that you’re planning 2022 right now. Take us through the process of creating a wave. How long in advance do you make character selections? Do you do it per wave or per year? And how much time elapses between sculpting prototypes and announcing a preorder?
BF: We plan a whole year all at once. It’s easier this way because if we get to make this character then we know you would want that character, so how can you release the one but not the other? Some waves, you want to see these characters together, versus just what is perceived as a character’s popularity. Plus, we also choose characters that we really want. There is always something unexpected here and there, but we balance it out and find the right assortment of figures for each wave. From there on out we get started on stuff, but we work on a LOT of different stuff so it takes time. Sculpting time varies based on what it is that’s being made. It comes together quickly sometimes, and other times it takes longer to make it feel right. We’re not really reusing bucks and parts at this point. While we want them to feel uniform so that when you have them together it feels cohesive, they’re all being custom made at this point. They’re already working on Wave 5’s sculpting. It’s not like they sit down and complete one figure, they’ve have six or seven going at a time! Sometimes they move on to this or that, then they come back. When you are not sure about a figure, you take a break, then you come back with fresh eyes. Ideally we have everything in hand a month before the time. We get final castings a month ahead of the preorder so we can take our photos, etc. We also don’t start tooling until we are done with preorder, otherwise we can’t go add a piece here or change something there when the tooling has already been done.
TC.org: With Lynx-O, we’re finally getting the second of the three new ThunderCats from Season Two. It’s about time we further explored that important trio, right?
BF: No comment. *Laughs*
TC.org: Ok, let’s put it like this. Just like Monkian foreshadows Vultureman, Lynx-O’s release has fans speculating that Bengali will be in Wave 5. You could still surprise us with another ThunderCat character, though. The list of actual ThunderCats left are getting rather short—Bengali, the ThunderKittens, Claudus and Jagara are the only ThunderCats left. How are you thinking about the spread of core characters across future waves? Could it potentially be like your TMNT Ultimates! Wave 4 consisting of just bad guys or good guys? Or will you still stick to half and half?
BF: I could surprise you. I think it’s going back and forth here and there. It’s not that easy. I mean with TMNT it was a case of we had to make Muckman. That was our decision; he just had to be made. So it could be like that here too.
TC.org: The cartoon made a strong point to not have Lynx-O’s blindness be perceived as a limitation, but his vintage toy release had a variant in some countries with dots painted on to represent eyes. Was this ever a discussion when planning Lynx-O? Is a sighted version of Lynx-O in his Thunderian robes something we might see down the line?
BF: We’ve talked about it a lot, it was interesting. We were saying he needs something else, and I’m not sure how we missed this, but it was the Braille Board that fans called out. There’s a lot of opportunity to have a lot of fun, but at same time don’t want people to feel like we’re bleeding them when charging a second time for the same character.
TC.org: This relates to the earlier question about the style of the Ultimates! line. Since Wave 1, the ferocious alternate heads have inspired a mix of hesitancy and enthusiasm—they look great and make for exciting battle poses, but they don’t always align with character personalities. Lynx-O’s one head features another ferocious expression, snarling like Pumyra’s, neither of whom are particularly ferocious characters. What’s your take on these ferocious expressions? Were other options considered for Lynx-O? He’s a pretty zen guy!
BF: I think we captured Lynx-O being zen with the one head perfectly, but we felt that you needed a bit more emotion, a bit more something else.
TC.org: Something that fans have pointed out is his boots that do not match his cartoon counterpart. They should be more like Panthro’s boots than Lion-O’s. Can this still be addressed since you already have the tooling for that boot? Lynx-O’s vintage toy actually does have the type of feet you are currently using on the prototype.
BF: It’s an interesting thing, you know. It’s a tricky line to balance between what was on the screen and what the toy was like. We can look into that, though.
TC.org: You’ve explained the announcement of Lynx-O’s Braille Board. Is there potential for more accessories to be announced later? There’s a certain Egyptian artifact, a magical talisman, that he once used to defeat Mumm-Ra. Would that be possible to add because it is a small accessory, or does size not matter when it comes to producing it.
BF: If it makes sense, then it is right to include and there is no reason not to do it. It can only make it better. In terms of including a new accessory at this stage, it is not necessary the size that matters, but how it fits in with the tooling. The Turtle communicator, for one thing, even though it is very small, is extremely difficult to make considering how you need to fit that in with the tooling. But if we can throw that into the mold with another part, if it is not that big a deal we can do it.
TC.org: Lynx-O does come with an accessory that I never expected to see—his light shield in the scale and style of the vintage one from LJN. Yours mirrors it exactly. Did you have to choose between a smaller, more cartoon-accurate light shield and this version?
BF: We just went back and forth with what people will remember and gravitate to. This was the one that came up in our debates. It just feels right to have this version of it.
TC.org: While he played a big role in the latter half of the show, Lynx-O may not be that familiar to the casual ThunderCats fan. You’ve mentioned before that the deeper a line gets, the more people jump on board. Did you find that to be true with Wave 3’s inclusion of Captain Cracker?
BF: You would be surprised to hear that so far Wave 4 has become our most popular wave. It may be because of Wave 1 being finally in people’s hands. I think it will continue when people have Wave 2 because of the entirely new characters. It usually increases a lot in the last 24 hours of the preorder window. But yes, Wave 4 has proven to be very popular.
TC.org: Last year, Danielle “Penny Dreadful” Gelehrter announced that she and Eric Marshall were writing the ThunderCats bios for Super7. Now that Wave 1 has shipped, it came to light that theirs weren’t used, and Jackalman’s was a copy of the Mattel bio. Who wrote the other three?
BF: Because of the Mattel versions that were released, those bios (and alternate versions of it) were already in the style guide for these characters. While we had those written by the duo, we were told that the ones already in place were the ones who were approved, and that no changes were necessary and that those were the ones to be used. We understand that some fans weren’t happy with them, but those were the ones we were asked to use.
TC.org: Should we expect to see new bios from Danielle and Eric in future waves?
BF: Yes, fortunately for us, the next batch of characters do not have preset bios for this specific style guide, so whatever new bios we submit should be used.
TC.org: Time for some teasing and speculating. We won’t be asking about Wave 5 just yet, but since you’re most likely already in production for the holiday figure, will that be a never-before-made character like Pumm-Ra, a variant of an existing release, or something else completely?
BF: You won’t be happy but it doesn’t look like we’ll be having the holiday figure this year.
TC.org: Oh no! We were wondering if it was going to be Mumm-Ra in a Santa hat…
BF: Ahhh, that would be a cool idea, right?! Then you need to get him standing with all the tinsel and lights and stuff around him, light him up and so on. *Laughs* But no, sadly that won’t be happening anymore this year. We’ve decided to focus on the waves at this point.
TC.org: Here’s another question to clarify. Do you have the rights to make all the LJN vintage prototypes or a character like Stinger that never appeared in the cartoon? And if you can replicate the vintage toys look, is an alternate vintage toy head an option?
BF: I’d have to check about somebody like Stinger with the license agreement. If it is something that we can prove is part of what we can do, then it won’t be a problem. I mean, we can do Lion-O because everybody knows him. They know him. But if Stinger isn’t known then we’d need to prove on if they have the rights to him. We can do alternative vintage toy heads yes.
TC.org: Lastly, let’s wrap with some clarity on Wave 4. Your preorder page shows that the delivery is scheduled for Summer 2021. Elsewhere it’s listed as Q4 2021. We know that delays happen. When are you confident that we’ll see Wave 4 ship?
BF: Summer to us starts in July, and that’s the start of Q3. So we’re expecting the figures to ship June / July to arrive maybe August / September. But when online shops have it listed as Q4, that may be because of September being more to the end of Q3 and closer to Q4. So when it arrives earlier, it’s nice to receive it before you expected it. I think it’s just probably how they list it.
TC.org: Any last words or comments?
BF: Yes, of course. We over at Super7 are having lots of fun making these for you. Because of the fans’ support I get to make more toys for you! We have lots of fun characters lined up for you to enjoy. Next year is going to be a busy year, and you’ll have Wave 2 and Wave 3 delivered fairly close to one another, so you will have lots of new ThunderCats in close succession. If it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t be able to make these. So we want to say thank you for your support.