Like most things in my life, it all starts with Bizarro.
LEGO is a kind of universal language when it comes to toy iconography. If you show someone a LEGO brick, they’ll immediately know where you’re coming from. It’s an enduring symbol, and there’s a reason why: LEGO embraces the idea that the toys they made decades ago should remain technically compatible with the toys they make today, for the most part. Bricks from the 1970s lock into bricks from today, and that’s the way it should be. It’s this spirit of openness and inclusiveness that makes LEGO great. But when collectors get involved and start influencing the sway of something otherwise pure and beautiful, you’re going to have problems.
There mindset of the collector sometimes involves a sense of entitlement; this thing exists, and I’ve been “loyal” to this product by investing time and/or money into it, therefore I deserve a say in how this thing operates in the future. It’s not a completely unjustified feeling. If you sustain something with your own resources, whether it’s food and shelter or money and advertising, you’d like to get something in return. It’s like raising a kid. You don’t feed it for 18 years so it’ll go out and deny climate change. pierce their nethers beyond usefulness and relate on a deep, spiritual level to Guy Fieri. These are evil things. You want to invest in improving the world, not spawning another Greaseball McMeatball and his line of tragic Walmart sausages. I can only hope that his meat byproducts have sassy names like ‘Oily Regret’ and ‘Regretful Awakenings (with basil)’.
So, collectors make demands, and companies decide to take actions that make collecting more “exciting” for the collector, because the collector has insinuated themselves into the marketing of this something. And this, dear reader, is where the idea of “exclusives” come from.
Exclusives are terrible things. They inspire jealousy and break collections apart. If you need to be in a certain physical place at a certain time in order to purchase something, I call bullshit. It’s exclusionary. It’s unfriendly. And unless you’re the most positive, unflappable son of a bitch in the world, you’re not going to enjoy the experience. San Diego Comic Con comes with stories of waiting on endless lines to pick up a voucher to return to another line at the right moment to possibly earn an opportunity to purchase a collectible. Exclusives suck the life out of an otherwise fun hobby, and about 75% of them just end up on eBay for ten times the initial price. These things are not finding their way into the hands and hearts of the dedicated; they’re ending up with people who want to make a profit. It kinda kills the buzz.
LEGO released a figure of Bizarro at San Diego Comic Con. The tiny chunk of plastic now runs about $250 at auction. LEGO continues to release other popular characters this way, and all of them are bound to the same fate: extremely high eBay prices and perfectly reasonable capitalism.
But Bizarro is one of my favorite characters. He’s complex in his stupidity, and no two writers can really agree on how he talks or his motivations. He’s the opposite of Superman in every way… except he thinks he’s the same as Superman, striving to do good in a world where ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are reversed. Bizarro is the essence of Silver Age comics in a single character: powerful, fun, and freaking weird.
Because of Bizarro’s popularity among collectors, tons of people have put together custom Bizarro LEGOs with stickers and re-used LEGO parts, but none of them were right. And then I found a shop based in Hong Kong which sold nothing but fake LEGOs and sex toys. If this was my only Bizarro option, I’d take it and hope that their two types of wares never touched in the factory.
S-World Heroes, or ‘Super Heroes Herd Series’, as the bootleg LEGO line is apparently called, does LEGO better than LEGO. They’ve managed to capture the high-quality plastics and almost measure up to LEGO’s high-quality printing, but in addition to that, the mystery company has managed to produce LEGOs at less than half the cost, with greater variety, and without being packed in with huge, expensive playsets. They’re essentially perfect.
The assortments are pretty unusual at times. While some feature a mix of DC and Marvel characters, others are intensely focused on very specific characters. Most of these sets either assemble figures which belong in a single set or team but are divided by LEGO across three or four larger playsets, or they include various exclusives, often extremely rare.
The bootleg LEGO Superman set includes:
– Modern Superman, available as a SDCC 2011 Exclusive and in a more common set with Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman.
– Black Suit Superman, available only as a SDCC 2013 giveaway.
– Clark Kent Superman, available as a 2013 promo with LEGO Batman: The Movie
– Man of Steel Superman, available in multiple sets
– Man of Steel Jor-El, a limited edition giveaway
– Man of Steel Tor-An, available in the ‘Battle of Smallville’ set
– Cyborg Superman, which doesn’t even exist in LEGO form yet
– Bizarro, available only as a very rare SDCC 2012 giveaway
The purpose here is never to write a review, but rather to explore why these things exist, and how they function in a greater context. You can see that the bootlegos’ feet aren’t like regular, squared-off LEGO feet, but that’s the only visual difference between these and real life, honest-to-goodness, always-expensive LEGOs. Their capes are also made of a slightly flimsier material, but I think that most people are willing to make a few concessions when it comes to a $248 difference in price between actual LEGO Bizarro and, well, bizarro Bizarro.
I love LEGO. I don’t think that there’s a soul on Earth who has a serious argument with LEGO, except for those times when you step on one in the dark and it hurts like the venom from a thousand serpents. LEGO has invited me into their Toy Fair showrooms year after year, and I’ve been the recipient of some of the rarest LEGO exclusives ever made, which can reach thousand-dollar prices on the secondary market. But now, LEGO has sacrificed a part of their souls to a collector culture which creates these situations in which substitutions must be made… and the substitutions are at least as good as than the real thing.
It’s a dangerous precedent to create. While it’s unlikely that everyone will start buying all of their fake LEGOs from Hong Kong, it inherently decreases demand for the real thing. The companies producing these things have direct and unfettered access to the factories which manufacture them. Over the past month, the same outlet which sells these Superman LEGOs has begun to sell Hulk LEGO figures, which also fetch healthy prices because they’re usually packed in with much larger, costly LEGO sets and not offered individually. Fake LEGOs are gaining momentum.
LEGO has never produced a full set of Green Lantern figures, but they did make a single Green Lantern giveaway figure in 2011. This same series of bootlegs have expanded that single figure into figures from across multiple Lantern Corps, including Sinestro and Atrocitus, and a bunch of generic-type Lanterns whose heads you can switch out with others to make all kinds of other Corps members. Even better, whoever conceptualized this set even included an extra head for Blue Lantern Saint Walker. It’s not often that a knock-off toy seeks to expand or elaborate on the property they’re copying, but here it is.
The Lanterns’ feet improve upon the Superman set’s designs by just damning copyright entirely and squaring those suckers off. It takes an incredibly close inspection to be able to tell the difference. It’s a revelation that things like this are possible. This set ran $15, all tax and shipping included. Can LEGO really put up a fight in this department?
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.