Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Ultimate Ram Man figure

One of He-Man staunchest allies, Ram Man was present nearly from the beginning of the MOTU line. He received his own minicomic by Gary Cohn and Mark Texeira, which saw him duped by Skeletor into attacking Castle Grayskull. This characterization as a well-meaning but slow-witted physical powerhouse quickly became the standard depiction of the character.
 As one of the handful of MOTU characters who are well-represented in pretty much all media, Ram Man is one of the most important and well-known of He-Man's allies. As part of the vintage toy line's second series, he was also one of the earliest figures released. Unfortunately, since he required 100% new tooling that had very limited potential for reuse, collectors had to wait quite a while for him to receive a figure in the MOTUC line. As with many figures in the line, sculptors the Four Horsemen based his look on the vintage cross-sell art(seen below, image via the excellent Battle Ram Blog), but the decision was made to use the color scheme from the vintage toy rather than that of the art. This was a somewhat controversial decision, but now, with this reissue from Super 7, collectors can have it both ways! (Assuming they've got deep enough pockets, anyway.)

Unsurprisingly, the 4H has absolutely nailed the look of the vintage cross-sell art with this sculpt. As someone who used to look at that art on the backs of my minicomics and wish I had a Ram Man figure that looked that cool, I'm thrilled to finally have one who looks as if he stepped right off the page. The head sculpt is divisive, as many collectors dislike the squinty-eyed expression, but it looks great to me. It's a face with a hell of a lot of character. It would have been nice to get a different expression on the alternate head as a compromise, though. Speaking of that alternate head, it's similarly well-sculpted, and while I'm not thrilled with the design-- it just seems weird that the metal plate is apparently part of his head, and the huge ears look rather weird-- it's all sculpted and detailed extremely well. The body sculpt also has some nice details, with lots of studs and rivets in appropriate places. Ram Man is also HUGE. He's not any taller than the standard MOTUC figure, but he's nearly twice as wide! I've waited more than thirty years to have a Ram Man figure that is sized appropriately, and it's damn nice to finally have one! I only have two gripes with the sculpting. First, it would be nice to have some dings and dents in the armor. I mean, this big burly bastard smashed into all kinds of stuff head-first, so you'd expect to see a bit of wear here and there, right? Second, Rammy has no neck! The area between the pauldrons is just a smooth expanse of grayness, and while this isn't noticeable with the standard head in place, when you switch to the alternate head, it looks very strange. This isn't a problem for me, as I'll only be using the standard head with my figure, but it will be a serious issue for anyone who prefers the alternate head.

Articulation is standard for the line, with ball joints at the head, shoulders, and hips, hinged elbows, knees, ankles, and torso, and cuts at the biceps, wrists, thighs, boot tops, and waist. The head has a very limited range of motion due to the armor's design, unfortunately. The alternate head moves much more freely. Accessories include the aforementioned alternate head and Rammy's trademark axe. The axe is a perfect update of its vintage counterpart, and fits nicely into the figure's right hand. 

With the paint, we run into the only real problems with this figure. First, let's deal with the elephant in the room: The armor has a dull matte finish, instead of the shiny silver it had when first unveiled, when it was for sale on Super 7's website, and as shown on the packaging. Customers didn't find out about this change until the figures started arriving on doorsteps. It's unclear why this change was made, but it seems that most people were not happy about it. Personally, I think it looks fine, but not as good as the shiny silver armor does on the original MOTUC version of the figure. I'll be applying a gloss coat to my figure's armor to address this. The second issue is that the entire "skirt" piece is molded in the same dull gray, and the orange part of it is painted very sloppily. There's a particularly large unpainted gap underneath the belt buckle. (It should be noted that the gray belt and buckle are accurate to the cross-sell art on which this figure's look is based, so I can't rightfully hold that against it.) Again, I can fix this without much trouble, but I shouldn't have to. The third issue is that the hands were not molded in the same color plastic as the figure's arms, so they have a sickly yellowish tinge that doesn't match the rest of the figure's "skin." There is also some general sloppiness in the paint all over the figure. I've spotlighted a couple of the worst areas below. Paint issues are pretty easy to fix, but it's still a shame to see so many, especially on such a pricey figure. This many paint issues give the figure a rather cheap appearance, which is the exact opposite of what we should be seeing when these are being sold as high-quality adult collectibles. 

That last paragraph may make it seem as if I'm not crazy about this figure. The many paint issues are disappointing, but they can at least be corrected. Every other aspect of this figure is so well executed that I can't help but love it despite its flaws. Once I do a bit of repainting, Ram Man will be one of my favorite figures in the entire MOTUC line. He's a pretty essential character, too, so it's a shame that he's so damned expensive on the secondary market. That's it for today, but scroll down for more photos, and swing back by next week for the next review!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Snow day on Eternia!

We're having a rare snow day in the southern US today, with five inches and counting! That much snow is practically unprecedented here. Apparently, they're getting some snow on Eternia today, too! ;)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Bow figure

We've got yet another character from the She-Ra: Princess of Power wing of the MOTU universe today! As I've said before, I never got into PoP, but I've got no issues buying MOTUC figures based on those characters, as I'm only out for cool figures. While Bow has often been the subject of much derision, I've never really understood why. He hangs around with a bunch of hot women, and he's got the whole Errol Flynn/Cary Elwes vibe going for him. Seems pretty cool to me! Turning the typical superhero romantic triangle on its head, Bow is in love with Adora, not her superpowered alter-ego.  Although, according to his bio, "he has a magical heart that beats frantically when She-Ra is in danger." Uh... okay then.

This figure has a fantastic sculpt, with quite a bit of new tooling. The Four Horsemen drew a bit more from the Filmation design than the vintage toy, while adding quite a bit of detail to bring the design to current standards. There are two heads included, a mustachioed Filmation-style head, and a clean-shaved vintage toy-style head wearing a crown. Both are great sculpts, though I prefer the one with the 'stache. The arrows sculpted into the quiver have a cool playing card motif. There is some nice detailing on his gauntlets and boots, and an intricate pattern on the side portions of his armor. Bow is a showcase for how much better certain figures could have been if the same level of detail and artistic license by the 4H had been applied to them as well.

There are a couple of issues with the figure, however, and both involve his armor. The armor doesn't want to stay in place, and is constantly sliding back or to one side. It really needed a pair of straps running from the lower front and around the back to hold it in place. The 4H seem to like giving us strapless armor whenever possible, for whatever reason. It's rarely as big an issue as it is here, though. The quiver has a cord attached, and there's really no good place to put it. The cardback shows it looped over his head and under his neck, but frankly, that just doesn't look good to me, and it impedes the ball-jointed head a bit. I tried looping it under his arm, but that only makes the armor slide to that side. I wound up just cramming it underneath the quiver to keep it out of the way.

Bow has the standard MOTUC articulation, along with a little something extra: In addition to the standard ball-jointed head, shoulders, and hips, hinged elbows, knees, torso, and ankles, and cuts at the waist, biceps, wrists, thighs, and boot tops, Bow also has a hinge at each wrist. This is to help pose him with his bow, and it helps tremendously in general posing. As with Green Arrow in their DC Universe Classics line, Mattel added a POA to a single figure that really should be standard across the line. It's damn nice to have those wrist hinges here, but it really drives home how nice it would be to have them on all figures. I had a few joints on my figure that are very tight, but I'd prefer that to loose ones.

Paint apps are below average, with a good bit more slop and over/underspray than I like to see, especially at this price point. Bow's hairline fared poorly on both heads, and I'll definitely be grabbing the brush to do some touching up. The white ring on the chest armor is very gloppy, and seems to have been applied quite thickly. There's also a lot of slop on the belt buckle, and the gauntlets have a few spots where paint simply wasn't applied where it should have been. These are just the most obvious paint issues; there are definitely more. This is significantly worse than we usually see in this line. Bow has a nice assortment of accessories, including his bow, and arrow, his harp, a different swappable chest armor logo, and the aforementioned extra head. The bow lacks a string, so you'll have to attach one yourself if you want one. Considering it was probably a choice between either a stringless bow or a molded plastic string, I think they made the right call here. The harp and bow both have a very cool horse motif. He does have some trouble holding the arrow, though, even though his right hand is sculpted to hold the shaft between two of his fingers. The chest logo swaps without much trouble, though I imagine you'll want to toss the one you're not using straight into the extras box to avoid losing it. I would have liked to see the 4H craft a sword or dagger for him as well, but I'm sure I can find something in the accessory box that's suitable for him.

I wish the paint apps were neater, and the sliding armor is annoying, but I still think Bow is one of the best figures in the entire MOTUC line. Visually, he really pops, and his suave head sculpt and extra articulation really help to make up for the relatively minor issues the figure has. Even if, like me, you're not a PoP fan, Etheria's resident archer deserves a spot on your shelf. That's all for today, but be sure to swing by next Tuesday for the next review!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Gygor figure

My friends are well aware of my affection for apes and monkeys. (It's possible, even very likely, that  this can be traced back to the original King Kong leaving such a huge impression on me when I was very little. I'm not sure exactly how old I was the first time I saw it, but I know it was at least a couple of years before I started school.) In fact, one of the reasons I liked Beast Man so much when I was a kid was because he was so apelike. So, it was with mixed emotions that I learned about Gygor years ago. Developed for the vintage MOTU line, he was a bright yellow gorilla, re-using the gorilla from Mattel's earlier Tarzan line(which was also the source of the cat mold used for Battle Cat and Panthor). Concept art depicted He-Man riding on his back, though it's unclear whether or not this indicated Gygor's allegiance, as heroic/evil discrepancies were fairly common in the concept stage. (A photo of the original prototype is below, courtesy of He-Man.org.) On the one hand, I always love seeing concepts that were never realized. But on the other hand, I couldn't help feeling a bit sad, as I knew how much I would have friggin' loved that toy when I was a kid!

Thankfully, one of the MOTUC line's specialties is bringing long-forgotten concepts to life, so I finally have the bright yellow ape warlord toy that my childhood self was denied. His bio places him squarely in the evil camp, first as an independent villain, later as a part of Skeletor's army. The first thing I noticed about Gygor-- once I got past the bright yellow, anyway-- was his size. It's one thing to know that he stands a hair under ten inches tall, but actually having the toy in-hand and seeing how he dwarfs nearly everything else on the shelf is quite another. He has an impressive shelf presence, and the expressive head sculpt only enhances it. Most collectors seem to be pretty divided on screaming head sculpts. Personally, I think some sort of expression is preferable to the blank zombie stare so many action figures are afflicted with, especially when it suits the character, as it does here. Gygor is a rampaging ape warlord continually thirsting for battle, and this head sculpt makes damn sure no one will forget it! As for the rest of the sculpt, it's fantastic. Furry bodies give the Four Horsemen free reign to indulge in the detailed sculpting they excel at, and Gygor is no different. This is a very realistic rendering of a gorilla, with meticulous detailing even on the interior of his mouth.

There was much debate over whether or not Gygor shared some parts with Grodd from the DC Universe Classics line, even after the 4H assured us he did not. (Even with the size difference, the same sculpt could have been used in the pantographing stage to create the new tooling.) Even if you don't want to take the 4H's word-- and we have no reason not to, as they've never tried to bullshit the collector community-- a simple side-by-side comparison of the two makes it clear that they are different sculpts. There are many similarities, of course, but how many different ways can the same guys sculpt the same animal, after all?

Once you get used to Gygor's impressive appearance, you can't help noticing all the ways in which his articulation lets the figure down. He fares fairly well above the waist, with a ball-jointed head, ball-jointed shoulders, and cuts at the biceps and wrists. The head has a good range of motion with the helmet removed, and it's not too restricted even with it on. Unfortunately, he might as well be a statue from the waist down. He has a diagonal cut at the top of each leg, and a cut joint at the top of each foot. Ball jointed hips wouldn't have looked very good, but I would have definitely preferred the additional posing opportunities they provided. A waist cut could have been placed so that it was concealed by the belt. Swivel/hinge wrists would have greatly improved the posing options for the arms, and coupled with a hinge in the torso, would have allowed Gygor to be posed in the classic ape pose of walking with his knuckles on the ground in front of him.

Paint apps are quite good overall. The bright yellow contrasts nicely with the darker green, and there is a nice paint wash over the yellow areas to add some nuance to the color scheme and bring out the sculpted details. Most of the detailed paint apps are on the face, and they're very well done. The teeth are very neat, and the entire mouth has a glossy finish to give it a moist appearance. The armor switches between matte and glossy black to differentiate between different materials, and it works very well. A few silver accents complete the look. Gygor's accessories include the aforementioned armor, which looks very cool and adds to his imposing appearance. It's all removable, though a few of the pieces are kinda tricky to take off and put back on. He also has a very large axe, which can also be held by any of the other giants in the line if you feel your ape warlord doesn't need an axe.

Despite the disappointing articulation, Gygor is as cool as they come. As a character hardly anyone knew about until a few years ago, he lacks the nostalgia that is such a draw for many figures in this line, but he more than makes up for it simply by being incredibly goddamn awesome. Scroll down for more photos, and be sure to swing back by next week for another review!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Rant Review Thanksgiving edition: DC Collectibles Bombshells Batwoman figure

Occasionally, a product, or line of products, comes along that seems to be aimed directly at me. I'm sure all of you have experienced this at some point. Something just aligns perfectly with your interests, and speaks to you on a level that most things simply don't. The DC Bombshells line of statues did that for me. I love DC's female characters in general, and I adore the pinup art of the 1940s-50s. Combining the two was a move designed to make me squeal with delight, if not for one problem: I have neither the money nor the space for these statues, so I had to pass on every single one of them. It was rough, let me tell ya. Thankfully, these action figures based on those designs are more in my price range. Today, we're looking at the Bombshells figure of one of my favorite DCU characters, Batwoman!

Sculpting is rarely a problem for figures from DCC, and it's quite good here, as well. The sculpt isn't very detailed, but it fits with the aesthetic of the Bombshells art by Ant Lucia, so I can hardly fault it for that. Most of the details are found in the cap's seams and the piping on the uniform. Batwoman's facial expression is a bit bland, but given how Wonder Woman's face turned out when they tried to give her a more active expression, I can live with it. The hips DCC is using on the bodies in this line are, frankly, kind of ugly, but Batwoman's skirt covers them completely, which is a big plus. Her hair is sculpted in a dynamic windblow pose that looks quite nice, though it does limit the posing a bit, as it will look very odd in certain poses.

Articulation is very good, with balljoints at the shoulders, hips, and neck, double-hinged elbows and knees, cuts at the waist and thighs, and pin/swivel combos at the wrists and ankles. The skirt is very soft, and doesn't limit the hip articulation much at all. The hair is also soft, but due to its thickness and weight, it limits the range of motion in the head a bit more than I'd like. Still, it's a huge improvement over the very stiff hair we get on so many figures. The waist is very tight on my figure, and sometimes it feels like I might break the joint if I turn it. Not a good sign. Paint apps are decent. there is a bit of slop here and there, with the belt the worst offender. The face is very neat and clean, though, thankfully. Accessories include a baseball, baseball bat, and four extra hands, one of which is a baseball glove. The hands pop on and off easily, yet don't feel like they'll fall off while posing them. Nice work here by DCC. There is some paint flaking on the pegs when adding or removing them, however.

Fans of this line or character will likely buy this figure anyway, if they haven't already. But for those of you who may be on the fence, I can recommend the figure as long as you can grab it for around $20. Like it or not, that is pretty much the standard price for a 6-7 inch figure these days, and the articulation and accessories make this figure a solid value for that price. For someone like me who really likes the character and the Bombshells line in general, it's a great buy, and I can't wait to add more of the figures to my display shelves! That's it for today, but be sure to come back next Tuesday, as the MOTUC reviews resume!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Octavia figure

I've established that I never got into the She-Ra cartoon, and I'm not really familiar with its cast, apart from the basics. That said, my MOTUC collecting is nowhere near as nostalgia-fueled as that of many others, so I'm always down to pick up any figure that looks cool, no matter what its source may be. So it was that I wound up with an Octavia figure. A couple of minutes of internet research tells me that she only appeared on two episodes of the cartoon-- man, what was Filmation's deal with having really cool characters show up only once or twice when they had hundreds of episodes to work with?-- and possibly had energy-draining abilities along the lines of fellow Horde member Leech. Having no attachment to the character, I wanted her because she's a cool sinister-looking octo-lady with a Cthulhu crossbow. Oh, and I suppose being a redhead never hurts!

The sculpt has some serious peaks and valleys. On the plus side, the head is excellent. As talented as they are, the Four Horsemen often seem to struggle when it comes to female head sculpts; a casual look at the females of this line and the DC Universe Classics line make that very clear. None of the common issues are apparent with Octavia, however. The 4H have given her a face that is attractive, yet tinged by cruelty, with sharp cheekbones and sunken cheeks that lend her a somewhat ghoulish demeanor. Truly fantastic work here! The tentacles are similarly awesome, with lots of detail lending texture to the extra limbs. Now, we come to the bad, or should I say, the bland. Octavia's entire outfit is a blank expanse of absolutely no detail. There is so much that could have been done here to lend texture to the figure's clothing, and the 4H are definitely capable of it. This is likely a design choice that was made to appease the very vocal contingent of MOTUC collectors who insist that Filmation-based characters maintain a similar aesthetic, despite their presence in a line that normally has a certain level of detail. It's a jarring contrast between the bland clothing and the very detailed tentacles, but this is an issue that has afflicted virtually all of the PoP figures, unfortunately.

Paint apps are mostly neat, though there is a bit of slop around the headband. The eyes and lips are very neat, thankfully. A paint wash on the tentacles would have been nice, but then, that would have made the differing levels of sculpted detail even more obvious, so perhaps it's for the best that no wash was applied. This is more a plastic than paint issue, but it's worth noting that the tentacles are a different shade of green than the rest of the figure's "skin." They're noticeably darker, and it's very apparent even to the naked eye. Articulation is standard for the line, with a few exceptions. Octavia has a ball-jointed head, ball joints at the shoulders and hips, hinges at the elbows, knees, and ankles, and cuts at the biceps, wrists, thighs, and waist. As a female figure, she lacks the abdominal hinge. (As we all know, women are incapable of bending there, right?) Each tentacle has a pin & swivel joint where it attaches on Octavia's back. (And these things are a pain in the ass to get attached! There should have been a medal included as a reward for attaching them without breaking anything.) Unfortunately, the tentacles severely limit the range of motion of the figure's head, and the long hair, in turn, limits the posing possibilities of the tentacles. This could have been alleviated by using softer plastic for the hair, but it's pretty stiff, unfortunately. With the tentacles attached, she's basically stuck looking straight ahead and slightly downward.

Octavia does well on the accessory front, with four swords, and a crossbow that she picked up at her local Nameless Old Ones outlet store. The swords have a nice design, with a hand guard designed to hold them in place at the end of each tentacle, so she can "hold" all four of them while still keeping her hands free for other things. They also have a pretty cool design, with hand guards modeled on the Horde bat emblem. If only they didn't have "CHINA" stamped on the side of the blade in big letters...

My issues with the lacking detail in part of the sculpt aside, this is a very cool figure, and I'm pleased to add her to the ranks of the Horde. She has an eye-catching color scheme, and despite the limited posing options, she looks pretty intimidating on the shelf, even alongside the various monsters that make up the Horde. She's actually one of the cheaper MOTUC figures on the secondary market, so you should be able to find one for a decent price without too much trouble. Scroll down for more photos, and be sure to check back in Thursday for a special bonus Thanksgiving review!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Vultak figure

Today we're looking at a minor character from the MOTU spinoff series She-Ra: Princess of Power. I never got into that show, not because I thought it was "for girls," but because I was never a huge fan of the Filmation cartoons in general. While I did watch the MOTU cartoon, and I enjoyed it for what it was, the lack of my favorite characters in the PoP cartoon made it a non-starter for my childhood self. Still, unlike many collectors, my MOTUC collecting is not dominated by nostalgia, so I want any figure that looks cool, even if I barely know who the character is. So it is with Vultak. Appearing in only two episodes of the show, the vulture man served as Hordak's zookeeper-- because naturally, a tiki-demon supervillain has just gotta have his own personal zoo-- and apparently had the ability to transform himself into some sort of vampiric shadow creature. Which, honestly, is pretty goddamn cool. For whatever reason, this ability was not used when he appeared in the recent DC Comics MOTU series. I would be inclined to lead with that, personally, rather than "Hordak's zookeeper," but I reckon that's just me.

The figure makes use of many parts we've seen before, of course, with a few new pieces. Vultak was sporting the standard wrist bracers when he was first revealed, but due to fan response, the MOTUC team made use of the recent furry bracers that were created for Icer, which make for a more accurate look. The head sculpt is fantastic, with sharply sculpted features and a truly demented expression. I mean, just look at this guy; he looks like a total lunatic! It definitely makes sense that a flying Count Orlok-impersonating vulture dude who spends his time capturing animals for a supervillain's private zoo would be pretty unhinged. The bird's feet boots are also well done, with a great sculpted texture. Who can say whether these are supposed to be boots, or his actual feet? It could really go either way. The armor is also new, with the requisite furry collar. I still miss the lower armor abdominal piece on armored figures. After fan outcry led to that piece being shelved, we've been left with figures who appear to be wearing skin-tight tank tops underneath sports bra armor ever since, complete with a navel. It's not a huge deal, but it is an annoyance.

A more major gripe is the way the wings are attached. Instead of a ball popping into a socket joint on the figure's back, Vultak reuses the wings from the DC Universe Hawkman figure, and consequently, has that terrible hinge connection on the back. It doesn't work as well as a simply ball & socket connection would, and it looks truly awful. I really wish these wings and this style of connection would be permanently retired. That aside, the actual wings have a great sculpt, and there's a swivel at the peak so they can fan out if you have the space for it on your display shelf.

Articulation is mostly standard, with a very good ball-jointed head, ball-jointed shoulders and hips, hinges at the elbows, knees, and ankles, cuts at the wrists, thighs, bot tops, and waist, the aforementioned wing joints, and the newer ankle rocker joints. Hinge wrists would be nice, as always. It's very annoying that those are standard for the Filmation-style figures, but not for the main MOTUC line. The minimal paint apps are good overall, and the eyes are especially neat. The pupils on mine look like they may be a bit off, but as with Trap Jaw, the crazy eyes definitely suit the character. There seems to be a faint wash on the wings, which is nice, but I think a heavier wash would have worked much better. This one is so faint that it's honestly rather tough to even see. Vultak comes with his requisite Horde crossbow, nicely designed with a bird theme, and a leash and collar for when he's feeling kinky. The collar fits nicely around the necks of female figures and smaller figures from other lines, but it should be noted that the leash is so hard and inflexible that it's kinda tough to pose both figures in a way that looks good unless you have him hold it somewhere other than the spot he's intended to. (Refer to the reviews of Clamp Champ and Serpentine King Hiss if you've missed the running joke referenced in the photo below!)

While he's not a core member of the Horde, Vultak helps flesh out its ranks well. He has an interesting look and a great head sculpt, and despite a couple of design issues, he's a very cool and fun figure overall. This is definitely one of those cases where the phrase "greater than the sum of its parts" applies, and I find myself liking this figure far more than I expected to just from looking at photos of him. If you're not really interested in PoP figures, don't give this figure a pass just because of that. He's a member for a faction that, honestly, needs all the members it can get due its relatively small size compared to the two main ones, and he's also a demented-looking monster dude. Those are always a good thing! You can currently get him for under $20 on Mattel's ebay store, so head on over there if you fancy adding him to your collection. That's it for today, but scroll down for more photos, and swing back by next Tuesday for the next review!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Clamp Champ figure

The final wave of the vintage MOTU line was pretty interesting. About half of the figures required a lot of new tooling, while the rest were almost nothing but reused parts, with a new head and accessory or two. Clamp Champ, the master of capture, fell into the latter camp. My eight year-old self didn't care, though. I instantly thought Clamp Champ was awesome. I already enjoyed movies like Shaft and Foxy Brown, and I had noticed that there weren't any black characters in my MOTU collection. Being a child, it didn't occur to me why that might be; I chalked it up to the same reason why they hadn't made figures of major characters like the Sorceress and King Randor, who were also finally released in that final wave. So when I saw Clamp Champ for the first time, I instantly gravitated toward him, and simply had to own the figure. I had pretty rotten luck finding any of the figures from that final wave-- the figures had a relatively low production run, and distribution was not as widespread as in earlier years-- and Clamp Champ was the only one I ever saw. I managed to get him for about a dollar on clearance at the local K&B. (Remember those?)

If I hadn't already thought the Champ was cool, the included minicomic, The Search for Keldor, would have ensured that I did. Whereas characters often just showed up in the minicomics and did little of importance, this dude straight up plucks an arrow right out of the air, and then kicks the shit out of the super ninja that shot it at him. Artist Bruce Timm also drew Clamp Champ with a little 'fro, further strengthening the connection to Shaft in my adolescent mind. And that pretty much set the template for the Champ's characterization in my MOTU adventures: He was a smart, tough-as-nails ass-kicker who other characters would turn to when they had a problem, and the ladies couldn't resist him. His reuse of Fisto's armor only made him cooler, as Fisto was one of my favorite characters. This meant, in my mind, that Fisto and the Champ were brothers, and they would frequently team up for various adventures. I tended to assign vehicles to specific figures; Fisto had Stridor, He-Man had Battle Cat, Man-at-Arms had the Battle Ram, Mekaneck had the Road Ripper, and so forth. Clamp Champ had to have one of his own, and he got one of my very favorites: the Bashasaurus. Part of my reasoning was that, since he and Fisto were brothers who teamed up a lot, they should both have animal-themed rides. It made sense at the time!

Naturally, I was very disappointed that Clamp Champ never received a figure in the 2002 MOTU line, which ended after only 18 months or so due to Mattel's bungling. (Yeah, I might still be just a little salty about that!) I did customize a figure of him, at least, and he received a staction in the Four Horsemen's mini statue line. The MOTUC figure is firmly based on the vintage figure, though it does incorporate a bit of the 2002 4H design. From the neck down, Clamp Champ's sculpt is exactly the same as the standard He-Man figure. His head is the only new tooling apart from armor and accessories, so it needed to be a home run. Thankfully, it is. This is one of the best head sculpts I've ever seen on a 4H figure, and that is high praise indeed. (When it comes to male figures, anyway...) The face is very detailed, and is very expressive. Far too many action figures have a blank, neutral expression, and that even plagues a handful of MOTUC figures. The Champ doesn't suffer from that, and the expression seems to change depending on the angle from which you view it. It's always awesome when the sculptors manage to pull that off. The armor looks similar to Fisto's, but it's actually a new sculpt. There are tech details that were not present on Fisto's armor,  and a backpack that is also new. It would be nice if the backpack was removable, but that's not a huge deal.

Articulation is standard for the line, with ball joints at the head, shoulders, and hips, hinge joints at the elbows, knees, ankles, and torso,  and cuts at the waist, wrists, thighs, and boot tops. The ab hinge and ball-jointed head work quite a bit better than on many MOTUC figures due to the figure's design. The armor has a cutaway on the back to avoid interfering with the articulation. Thankfully, this doesn't look too weird. Paint apps are mostly neat, particularly on the face. The armor has some nice metallic highlights on the metal bands. There is a bit of slop around the belt, and it would be nice to have the boot straps painted a different color, or given a gloss sheen or something, as we've seen with other figures. Accessories include the clamp from which the Champ gets his nickname, and a smaller capture device that is based on one from the 2002 design. Both are nicely detailed, and the large clamp has some paint detailing here and there. The device doesn't actually work as the vintage one did, and the pincers must be posed manually. It's worth noting that the pincers don't completely retract into the clamp as they did with the vintage version. The vintage clamp also included an indentation for the thumb to fit into when the figure was holding it; that is not present here. There doesn't appear to be any way to stow the weapons on the backpack, which is disappointing.

Considering that there is still overstock of this figure available on Mattel's Ebay store, it's safe to say that Clamp Champ is not one of the more popular figures in the MOTUC line. This only proves the saying that every character is someone's favorite! I love the character and the figure, and I'm very pleased with the work the 4H and Mattel did with him. He's not as flashy or as attention-grabbing as some of the other figures in the MOTUC line, but the Champ is a solidly-executed figure that will round out your MOTU heroes very nicely.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Rant Review Halloween Edition: Masters of the Universe Classics Skeletor figures

Surprising absolutely no one, this special Halloween day review is a celebration of all things Skeletor! Or more specifically, reviews of few different permutations of the character in figure form. Skeletor is probably my favorite character from anything, so naturally, I've amassed quite a few Skeletor figures over the years. Strangely enough, I never owned the original figure as a child. For whatever reason, he was rather tough to find in my town. We didn't have a lot of money growing up, so I only got new toys occasionally, which let to a few occasions where I would finally see him in a store, only to be informed that I couldn't get him. So it was that I had to keep coming up with excuses why Skeletor wasn't present in my MOTU adventures-- he was normally a disembodied voice, giving orders to his underlings and attacking with his sorcery from afar-- until the release of Battle Armor Skeletor in 1984. This relative rarity added to his mystique and coolness in my mind, and he was my top priority once I began rebuilding a vintage MOTU collection as a young adult around 2000.

Obviously, there have been many different characterizations for the arch villain. The sarcastic, bumbling version seen in the Filmation cartoon is probably the best known, but I was familiar with him from the early minicomics before the cartoon began, so it was never my preferred version. The darker, more malevolent and dangerous Skeletor of the early comics informed my view of the character. This was the Skeletor who plagued Eternia, and occasionally the entire universe, in my MOTU adventures. He-Man and his allies suffered many setbacks, and their victories were hard-earned, and not always assured. Some prefer the sarcastic asshole Skeletor-- and that version is certainly not without its charm, since the Skeletor featured in my goofy comic strips is basically that persona cranked up to eleven-- and many find that their preferred version lies somewhere between the two extremes. Thankfully, whatever your preferred version of the archetypal supervillain may be, the MOTUC line has you covered.

As the MOTUC line kicked off in 2008, we actually had to wait a bit for its villain to arrive. This was likely rooted in the line's original intent to be sold as two-packs, each pairing an A-list character with an antagonist. He-Man vs Beast Man was to be one such pack, so they were the first two figures sold, leaving Skeletor to debut afterward. While the Four Horsemen drew from the concept art for some figures in the line, for the earliest figures, the original 8-back cross-sell artwork was the defining design element. (See Skeletor's concept art by creator Mark Taylor above, courtesy of The Power and Honor Foundation.) As you can see, they matched the cross-sell art pretty much exactly. (I still want a figure based on that concept art, though!) With a few added paint details, the figure looks as if he stepped right out of the cross-sell ad. Note the shin guards and spiky gloved-looking forearms, which differ from the scaly sculpt of the original toy. Even the open gesturing left hand, which was much maligned by many collectors, was present in that art, and even as far back as the concept art. While this may not be the ideal version of Skeletor for everyone, it can hardly be criticized for faithfulness! In the absence of what I wanted most-- a super-articulated Skeletor figure based on the 2002 design-- this was a very nice consolation prize. This figure's head sculpt has a bit of a creepy clown-type vibe going for it, but it's pretty toned down compared to some of the more extreme renditions of Skeletor.
This motherfucker, on the other hand, looks like he eats babies for fun.

This, the default Skeletor in my MOTU display, is actually made from three different figures. From the neck down, it's the second version of Skeletor, which was available in one of the Toys R Us exclusive MOTU vs. DC Universe two-packs. It's the same as the basic Skeletor figure, with a few differences. The skull was completely yellow, the armor is a lighter shade of purple and has some different paint apps, and the left hand has been resculpted so it can hold accessories more easily. This figure was taken as a Filmation Skeletor by many collectors in the years before an actual Filmation figure was produced. The cape is from Keldor, who we'll get to in a minute. The head was a pack-in with Demo Man, an awesome figure based on early concept art by MOTU originator Mark Taylor. It's based on the amazing work of master artist Alfredo Alcala, who illustrated the four original minicomics that shipped with figures in the MOTU line's first year, as well as many of the minicomics from the next couple of series.

Alcala produced amazing work, and his renditions of the early MOTU characters and their world remain the definitive ones for many. It's an incredible sculpt, one that many of us lovers of the early comics had wanted for years, but had barely dared hope would actually be produced.

First hinted at in the minicomic The Search for Keldor, which was released in the vintage line's final year, Keldor is King Randor's half-brother. This was obliquely hinted at in the minicomic, but it wasn't until the 2002 animated series that the tale of Keldor was fleshed out a bit. Though he was the rightful heir to the throne, the racism of the Eternian people against the blue-skinned Gar race led to him being passed over. Understandably bitter, Keldor began treading the path that would lead to his transformation into the unholy Skeletor. The figure is mostly composed of the same parts we've already seen twice with previous Skeletor figures, though he also borrows from a few others, mostly He-Man and Tri-Klops, to complete his pre-Lord of Destruction look. The head sculpt is excellent, making this figure a great representation of the charismatic rogue who only sought to claim the throne that was his by right. He looks even cooler with his cape, which I was hesitant to remove, but Alacala Skeletor demanded it! (And yeah, I know he didn't wear a cape in the comics. I don't care. He looks even more badass wearing it!) The one major issue with this figure is that his armor should have been a new sculpt, as he did not wear armor featuring the bone motif during his Keldor days.

Articulation on all three figures is standard for the line. Keldor's righteous mane does restrict his head movement, however. His right ankle is also very loose. Paint apps are pretty sparse, but well applied where they're needed. One oddity is the Alcala head sculpt; for whatever reason, the decision was made to paint the shadowed parts, such as around the eye sockets, purple instead of black. I repainted those areas, so this odd color choice is not visible in these photos. The original Skeletor included his purple power sword, a half version of that sword, as a nod to the original toys, and his trademark Havoc Staff. The comic Skeletor only included a cool translucent yellow version of the power sword, representing how it looked in the included comic. Keldor included the very cool acid vial that wound up melting his face off, and, controversially, two of the purple half swords. This was a huge sticking point, as Keldor (and later Skeletor) wielded a pair of very awesome dual swords. (These were originally redesigned power sword halves, as the Four Horsemen originally intended the 2002 MOTU toyline to continue the story of the original, with Skeletor possessing both halves of the sword, and He-Man having to use the tech sword created by Man-at-Arms to channel the power of Grayskull. When Mattel decided to make it a reboot instead, the designs remained.) Those in charge of the line insisted that these were the MOTUC version of those swords, which, frankly, was utter bullshit. Fan outcry forced Mattel to eventually cave and release a proper version of the swords in a later weapons pack, but since I'm not prone to shelling out $20 to get an accessory that should have been included with a figure to begin with, my Keldor is holding a pair of the swords from the 2002 Skeletor figure. A mid-transformation "melting face" head, akin to the one the 2003 SDCC exclusive was packaged with, would have been a cool inclusion, but sadly, one was never produced for the line.

As the main villain of MOTU, a Skeletor figure of some sort is absolutely essential to any MOTU collection. Whatever your preferred version is, you can put together a pretty damn close representation of it using the available parts. (Unless you like the movie version, of course!) Most will cost quite a bit, sadly. Nearly every version of the character carries a high price on the secondary market, with the exception of the Intergalactic version, which was based on his appearance in the divisive New Adventures of He-Man revival from the early '90s. For those who want to find a Skeletor without selling any vital organs, your best bet may be to pick up a Keldor and pair him with the head of your choice. Many loose heads are available on the secondary market, including some custom-cast ones. There's bound to be something that appeals to you. So, what is your preferred version of the character? What variation of the figure stands front and center on your shelf? Feel free to sound off in the comments, and scroll down for more photos, including a couple of pieces of awesome vintage Skeletor-centric art by Esteban Maroto!