The Nacelle Company began as a production entity known for Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us, but it turns out they themselves may have been the biggest toy fans of all. Taking what they learned during the making of the docuseries, founder and CEO Brian Volk Weiss set out to actually make toys as well, seeking out older licenses that remained dormant with an eye to revival. “Most of ’em are locked up with Hasbro, or Marvel, or Mattel, or whatever,” Weiss told Superhero Hype in a conversation at Comic-Con. “But as you can tell from what we’re doing, there are brands out there that are available if you know where they are, and you know the people, and you have the money to get ’em.”
Weiss began with online preorders for revived versions of ’80s cult lines Robo Force and Sectaurs. More recently he added the ’90s TMNT-ish Biker Mice From Mars and an obscure ’50s remote-control monster toy called the Great Garloo, which Funko and Super7 had already made tributes to. Next will be the Wayne Barlowe-designed aliens of Power Lords, and an as-yet-unannounced sixth property (dare we hope for Inhumanoids?). They’ll all have cartoons, kicking off with Robo Force and Biker Mice From Mars, which will include crossover characters from the other lines.
Something Old, Something New…
Aside from being set far enough in the future to casually feature multiple alien races like the Sectaurians, Weiss says of the Biker Mice show, “Storywise it’ll be probably about 80% the same, because it has a really passionate fanbase and it’s a great story. But we will be modernizing it. We might spend a little bit more money on writers, and I say that as a fan, but it’ll be very true to the original, just like the toys. The toys are exactly like the original as relates to aesthetics, but we took advantage of new toy technology, and that’s the exact same logic we use for the cartoon.”
Indeed, aside from the lack of spring-loaded antennae, no longer permitted by safety rules, the figures look very familiar. Robo Force, however, have undergone an almost Todd McFarlane-esque redesign for their pepperpot-shaped characters. Why such a change there?
“For two reasons,” Weiss says. “One is, unlike Biker Mice or even Sectaurs, no-one cares. There was no constituency for Robo Force. With Biker Mice, if we made changes, people are gonna be mad. Sectaurs, to a lesser degree, but still. There’s no Robo Force fans out there! You don’t go around here and see people dressed like Robo Force…yet. The second thing is it was a really problematic toy. It didn’t have legs. They were in the bargain bin two weeks after they came out. I couldn’t play with them because they didn’t have legs! So they’d have this stupid suction cup, which I love, but most people didn’t. So it was like, let’s keep the suction cups, but give them legs.”
What’s the Story?
“That’s the first thing, and then the second thing was, like, there was no world. The comic books that came with the toys? They weren’t just bad – and they were bad. They were the same thickness as the He-Man comics, but He-Man would have 4-8 panels per page, trying to cram as much as they could. Robo Force had like one or two panels per page. So you’d have this comic book with nothing in it – there was nothing else to work off. And they were making the pilot when the whole show got canceled. Have you seen the pilot?”
[Editor’s note: It’s bad. Watch below if you dare.]
Weiss’ storyline will take a postmodern approach inspired by the real story of Robo Force. Introduced in 1983, the toys were supposed to be the hot new item, with Toys R Us placing a record-settingly large order. Two days later, Hasbro revealed Transformers, and they became the only robot toys anyone wanted.
Misfit Toys Redux
“So in the cartoon, the Robo Force, they’re supposed to be the big heroes, the soldiers, the sailors, the firefighters, the lifeguards,” Weiss says. “And the day they’re announced, in the world’s version of Apple pro, whatever, the new company down the block announces an even bigger robot, an even better robot, and Robo Force ends up becoming janitors, roto-rooters, traveling salesman, so that’s what we did. We appropriated reality.”
Weiss came surprisingly close to adding RoboCop to the roster, which would have led to realistic movie figures and Kenner-inspired RoboCop and the Ultra-Police in the cartoon universe. As he approached a deal with MGM, however, Amazon took over, with eyes on bigger deals than Nacelle could provide. Outside of the Nacelleverse, the company also makes licensed figures based on the expanse, and a line based on stand-up comedians Joan Rivers, Bill Hicks, and Lenny Bruce. “They’re all dead, so there’s no union trouble,” Weiss jokes. “I dunno about Lenny; I’m pretty sure Bill would’ve been okay with it, because he also liked money.”
What Deals May Come
Speaking of unions, Ryan Reynolds signed on as a producer to the Biker Mice series, but due to the actors’ strike, cannot even talk about the possibility of adding his voice to the mix at present. In a similar vein, The Expanse actors may not mention their action figures currently. “I think had the strike not been going on, the actors would all be announcing it,” Weiss muses.
As for the future, Power Lords pose an exciting possibility, though the original toys depended heavily on a reversible gimmick that could turn them into different, powered-up versions when their torsos twisted back to front. When the Four Horsemen revived the toy line a few years ago, they altered that feature to interchangeable body parts instead. “Our intention is to try to do the torso reveal if we can get it to be cost effective,” says Weiss.
Back in Stores?
They won’t only be online preorders, either. Per Weiss: “We have built a distribution network of over 400 mom and pop toy stores all over the world (95 percent are in the USA and Canada currently) as well as our DTC sales system. We have been using both with rapidly improving success over the last 18 months.” And per his associate Bryan Knight, they won’t be in Walmart or Target. “We believe in high quality, low batch toys,” he says, “kinda like a micro brewery.”
Take a look at a few more SDCC images below: