Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Despara figure

Today we're looking at a true rarity in the MOTUC line, as Despara is a character drawing not from the vintage toyline, cartoon, comics, or concept art, but from the recent comic series from DC Comics. (It's a shame we didn't get more, as that series was ripe with great designs and characters for Mattel to draw from!) Despara was created as a darker, somewhat more realistic take on the origin story of She-Ra. In the Filmation cartoon, baby Adora was abducted and raised by Hordak, growing up to become a high-ranking member of the Horde. Once reunited with her twin brother, He-Man, and given her own version of the power sword, she instantly becomes heroic, and all of the atrocities she no doubt committed as a member of the Horde are forgotten. Of course, much of that is due to the limitations placed on programming aimed at kids in those days, but it's still one of the weakest points of the character's story. The DC Comics series explored this much better, and re-envisioned force captain Adora in a far more intimidating form as part of that. Wearing her adopted father's face, Despara led the Horde's invasion of Eternia, and her transition from villain to hero was more gradual, and far more painful. The weight of her crimes tormented her, and gave her a powerful motivation to be a hero, as she sought to undo all the evil she had taken part in. It made for a better-developed version of the character, and one that is more than worthy of inclusion in the MOTUC line.

The sculpt by the Four Horsemen is good overall, and she certainly has a formidable presence on the shelf. That said, the details are rather soft, and there aren't as many sculpted details as I would have liked. Stand her next to Hordak, and this really becomes apparent! The alternate head is well-sculpted, and it certainly looks like the previous versions of the character we've gotten in this line, but her cheerful facial expression just doesn't suit the character. A grimacing, angry, or even screaming facial expression would have worked far better here. Thankfully, I had no plans to display the figure with this head, anyway. The large cape is cool, but it's so heavy that it makes it tough for the figure to stand for long without toppling. So, while the figure's sculpt isn't bad at all, it does miss the mark in a few key areas. That's very rare for the 4H. Due to a production issue, the figure's left hand is misshapen, making it practically impossible for her to hold anything in that hand for more than a few seconds. It can be reshaped with the application of some heat, but once again, this is something we simply shouldn't have to bother with, particularly with how much most of these figures cost.

Paint apps are another sore spot. There's quite a bit of slop, and some areas simply aren't completely filled in. In contrast, both heads are very well painted, with crisp lines, and some nice highlights on the masked head. It's odd to see the paint apps vary so wildly in quality like this, but if there's going to be slop, I would prefer it be on the body, rather than the head, so I can't get too bent out of shape over how things worked out. Articulation is another uneven area for the figure, with some key points of articulation missing. Despara has ball joints at the neck and shoulders, swivel & hinge hips, hinges at the elbows, knees, and ankles, ankle rockers, and swivels at the biceps, wrists, boot tops, and waist. The torso hinge and thigh swivels are missing, as they are on many female MOTUC figures, and those omissions hurt this figure as much as it did all of them.

Despara fares well as far as accessories go. She has the previously mentioned alternate head, her Horde staff, and her twin swords. The weapons have nice sculpts, and I particularly like the design of the swords. Both swords can be stored on her back, which is always a nice touch. Unfortunately, she has a lot of trouble holding her accessories in her left hand, due to the production issue mentioned earlier. It's just another issue with a figure that already has far too many.

Overall, Despara is a mixed bag. I love the idea of the character, and she was an excellent choice to be produced as a figure, but the issues with the sculpt, paint, and articulation take a figure I really wanted to love and made it one that I think is just okay. Still, she does look cool standing on the shelf, assuming you can get her in a stable pose, and she fits right in with the rest of the Horde. I imagine she'd look absolutely badass leading a group of Horde Troopers into battle! (Note to self: I really need to get some of those!) Fans of the comics are also sure to want her, and even with all the figure's issues, she is worth tracking down. Just don't pay too much for her, and be prepared to fix that hand if you want her to actually be able to hold her weapons! That's all for today, but scroll down for many more photos, and be sure to swing back by next week!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Man-E-Faces figure

Today we're looking at one of the more controversial figures in the MOTUC line, the master of disguise (well, from the neck up, anyway) Man-E-Faces! MEF was an early release in the vintage MOTU line, debuting as part of the second wave in 1983. He's had several different origin stories, but my favorite is seen in the minicomic included with the figure, The Ordeal of Man-E-Faces. An acclaimed actor, MEF is conscripted by Skeletor, who transforms him into a monster. Skeletor commands him to kidnap Teela so he can sacrifice her to a demon! Seriously, it says so right there in the comic.

See? Can you imagine a toy company putting something like that in a comic aimed at little kids these days? Everyone would lose their damn minds! Anyway, the Goddess intervenes, freeing MEF from Skeletor's thrall. The two battle for control over MEF, changing him back and forth from man to monster, until finally, he transforms into a robot, unable to decide on a course of action. As Skeletor flees-- He-Man and Teela kicked the demon's ass during the magical tug-of-war-- the Goddess transforms MEF once more into a human. The heroes rejoice, but the Goddess notes to herself that the monster and robot personalities are now permanent parts of MEF, bound to emerge again in the future.

In some other media, most notably in the Filmation cartoon,  MEF could transform his face into literally anyone or anything. But as I said, the comic made the biggest impression on me, and my MOTU adventures often saw MEF struggling to control his monstrous side, with Skeletor always ready to exploit it. Each personality had specific traits; there was the standard super strength with the monster face, and the robot face gave him perfect aim with his weapon, along with super intelligence and a perfect memory. Sometimes I would turn the dial so that it was halfway between two faces to simulate MEF struggling between two different personalities, or another battle between Skeletor and the Goddess for control over him. MEF was a figure that offered plenty of rich play opportunities!

I first saw him on the cross-sell art on the backs of the packaging and minicomics, so I was quite surprised the first time I saw the actual figure in a store. (See the cross sell art above, courtesy of the always excellent Battle Ram blog!) I was disappointed by the altered color scheme, but the figure and his face-swapping gimmick was still cool enough that I wanted it anyway. I soon got over the color change, and MEF became one of my favorite MOTU figures and characters. He remains so to this day. He was one of my most-wanted figures in the rebooted 2002 line, and I remember the thrill of finding the chase version of the figure before its existence had even been announced. (It's one of the handful of figures I've actually kept in the package, as it makes for a cool display piece.) With that line's abundance of repaints, I kept hoping we'd get a "cardback colors" repaint of MEF, but it never happened. However, as the MOTUC line rolled along, it seemed inevitable that we would finally receive a figure of that version of the character, given the line's propensity for using the cross-sell art as the main source for the early characters. As it turned out, well... There was some indecision over which version to produce. A poll was held where fans could vote on whether MEF would use toy colors, cardback colors, or a mix of the two. The mix option won, giving us a figure that many were not happy with.

The sculpt is great, as usual for the Four Horsemen. The 4H clearly had the cardback version of the character in mind during the sculpting phase, as the details match it much more closely overall than the vintage figure. (Look to the shoulders and the helmet design as examples of this.) There's a lot of reuse, or course, mainly from Trap Jaw. This includes the open left hand, which irks some people. Personally, I like having some gesturing hands on some figures for variety, but it does limit what the figure can hold. The obvious solution is to include swappable hands, but Mattel never saw fit to do that. The new pieces are very well done, and the monster face, in particular, is a perfect update of the vintage figure. The human face, on the other hand, looks exactly like the cardback art.

Returning to the color scheme, while it's not what I would have chosen, I quite like it. While I believe they should have just picked one over the other, and released a repaint in the other colors later, what we have is pretty nice. It's definitely a matter of individual preference, as there's nothing objectively bad about the color scheme chosen for the figure. The paint apps themselves are applied well overall, with only some tiny bits of slop in a few places. There's a glossy finish on the robot face's visor, and on the monster face's eyes. There are some nice metallic highlights here and there, including on the updated version of MEF's gun. On a figure with so few colors, these highlights help quite a bit.

Articulation is mostly standard for the MOTUC line, at least from the neck down. MEF has the usual ball joints at the shoulders and hips, hinges at the elbows, knees, torso, and ankles, and swivels at the wrists, waist, thighs, and boot tops. Thanks to the face changing feature, MEF only has a swivel at the head, though the helmet itself swivels as well. The "action feature" works perfectly, and the faces switch easily and smoothly as you turn the knob on top of the figure's head. Accessories include the aforementioned gun, along with a "secret accessory," which turned out to be the first thing everyone guessed when it was announced: An additional head wheel with three more faces! Thanks to this, MEF can add Skeletor, He-Man, and Orko to his repertoire. These extra faces are all well-done, although they kinda went nuts with the green on the Skeletor face. I immediately tried fitting other heads into the helmet, but as you can see below, not many fit properly. Most male heads, such as Bow's, are too large, and most female heads, such as Despara's, are too small. Still, it's fun to mess around with.

As one of the A-list heroic characters, MEF is essential to any MOTUC collection, so it's good that the figure is executed so well. The mixed color scheme may be an issue for some collectors, but this guy is simply too important a part of the MOTU mythos to be left out! I'm honestly pretty surprised that Mattel never released any repaints of the figure, and sadly, that lack of reissues has resulted in MEF commanding a fairly high price on the secondary market. It's worth haunting the online commerce site of your choice looking for a good deal, however, as Man-E-Faces is one of the best-executed figures in the entire line. Keep scrolling down for more photos(well, one more), and I'll see you next week!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Fang Man figure

We're looking at another character from the Filmation animated show today, the somewhat obscure Fang Man! I don't recall ever seeing the episode that featured Fang Man when I was a kid, but I did watch it when tracking down every episode of the old MOTU cartoon I could find around the time of the 2002 relaunch. I thought he had a neat, if rather goofy, design, and was mildly annoyed that he didn't appear in any of the other episodes I had rounded up. Of course, as I discovered a couple of years later, The Time Corridor was his one and only appearance. (What can I say? I was always way more into the early minicomics than the cartoon!) Skeletor took him into Eternia's distant past as part of that episode's plot, and since he never showed up again, many fans assumed he was simply left behind. Mattel ran with that theory, as that's exactly what is claimed in his bio. Poor Fang Man! You'd think Skeletor would be a bit more covetous of a henchman who can control dragons!

The Four Horsemen have delivered a fantastic sculpt, as usual. Though Fang Man is built with many parts we've seen before, creative design truly minimizes their impact, and he almost seems composed of all-new tooling in-hand. He makes use of parts from Whiplash, He-Man, Skeletor, Fisto, Keldor, and Demo-Man, with a handful of new pieces to really make the figure shine. The scaly torso previously seen with Saurod and Whiplash is present, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell due to the implementation of the new pieces. The 4H have created a new overlay that serves as Fang Man's shirt, and a large hump with ridges was sculpted into it, giving him a hulking, hunched posture that suits the character perfectly. The head and neck, which fits over the standard neck part of the torso, completes the look, and adds an extra point of articulation in the bargain. The face is rather goofy, but it's true to the source material, so it's hard to fault them for that. There's enough detail added to make him fit into the line well, without the jarring effect one of the Filmation-style figures would have in the middle of a MOTUC display. Excellent work by the 4H here, all around!

Fang Man has the standard articulation-- ball joints at the head, shoulders, and hips, hinges at the elbows, knees, ankles, and torso, and swivels at the biceps, wrists, waist, thighs, and boot tops-- along with a couple of bonus points of articulation owing to his design. As mentioned above, his head gains an extra POA, as there is the usual ball joint at the base of the neck, along with another at the top, where the head attaches. The range of motion here is limited, but it's still useful, and much appreciated. The other added POA might not be so obvious at first, but it's quite fun: His tongue moves! It's attached to a peg inside his mouth, and can be swiveled back and forth. It's a fun POA that can really give the figure some added character. Paint apps are pretty simple, but very neat. Metallic accents are added here and there in appropriate areas to make the figure pop a bit more, but my favorite paint detail is the glossy finish on the tongue, which makes it appear as if it's actually wet. Fang Man doesn't have the most complex paint job in the MOTUC line, but what's here is very neat and clean.

Fang Man has a trio of cool accessories. The Sword of the Ancients, seen in Masks of Power,  has a very cool design, and he looks pretty badass wielding it. He also comes with a forcefield generator, which looks like it was designed for rather naughty purposes, and the Wheel of Infinity, which played such a crucial role in his episode. (Of course, being the consummate professional that I am, I forgot to include it in any of the photos. D'oh!) These kinds of accessories are always very cool to get, and it's awesome to get so many in one shot like this!

While he's a D-list character at best, Fang Man's figure serves as an excellent example of how the 4H are able to draw from the same library of parts that we've seen on so many figures before, and make it so that we barely notice the reuse because of their creative sculpting and design. While rather obscure, he makes a great addition to Skeletor's crew, particularly if you also have Strongarm, and he also helps round out the group of Filmation characters. Not bad for a baby blue lizard whose master thought so little of him that he left him stranded in prehistory! That's it for today, but swing back by next week for more!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Geldor figure

When it comes to MOTU media, I've always been more into the minicomics than anything else. These were the main source of information about who these characters where in the days before the Filmation animated show debuted, and some of my earliest memories are of looking at these pack-in comics, and having them read to me. Quite a few original characters were introduced in these stories, and it's a very rich area to draw from when considering who to make into new figures. While this wealth of characters is woefully under-represented in the MOTUC line, we did at least get one of the most interesting of the minicomic villains in Geldor. As a warrior obsessed with attaining immortality, Geldor sought the Secret Liquid of Life at all costs. He had a pretty impressive showing in the single story that featured him. He had some cool henchmonsters that resemble bipedal dimetrodons:

He had his own wizard with some killer eyebrows who was capable of some very convincing illusions to help further his goals:

He poached Validus from the Fatal Five as a henchman:

And he actually died at the end of the story, purely because He-Man is a big dick:

Really, dude? You're gonna drop the stuff on the ground, probably knowing full well what's gonna happen, then make a lame-ass joke while the guy's getting killed? That's some cold shit. But anyway, it made for a memorable character who was long overdue to be immortalized in plastic by the time it finally happened. The creators behind the comic also made a concerted effort to include more minorities in their stories, which can also be seen in Slave City and Double-Edged Sword. Considering how early in the '80s this was happening, they were kinda ahead of the curve. (As always, you can read these stories over at the He-Man.org archives.)

As with most MOTUC figures, Geldor makes use of the basic body, with the newly-sculpted parts he needs. He looks as if he stepped right off the page, as the Four Horsemen have nailed the character's look with their sculpt. He has a fierce facial expression that captures the character's ruthless determination. The loincloth and armor straps have a nice leather texture, and there are some rivets here and there in the appropriate spots. Thanks to the design of Geldor's armor, he avoids the "fat armor syndrome" that has afflicted far too many figures in this line. It would be nice if he had a spot on his armor to hold his axe, but for whatever reason, that didn't happen.

Geldor has the standard MOTUC articulation, with ball joints at the head, shoulders, and hips, hinges at the elbows, knees, ankles, and torso, and swivels at the biceps, wrists, thighs, boot tops, and waist. The ankle rockers are present, but very limited. As always, I'd like to have swivel & hinge wrists instead of the simple swivels the figure has.

Paint apps are very neat, with little to no slop around the straps, and the face looks perfect. There's some nice drybrushing on the hair, and various shades of red, including some metallics, are used throughout the figure to make the very plain color scheme pop. There has been some discussion about his skin tone, and I certainly remembered him being darker, but looking at the minicomic, the skin tone they chose matches his appearance throughout most of the comic. My figure has a small defect on his chest armor, a black spot that appears to be contamination in the plastic used to mold the piece. It's not a huge issue, but it is unfortunate. Geldor only has two accessories, but they're straight from the comic. His axe is closely based on its design on the comic's cover, with some added detail and paint apps. The sculpt is a bit plain for my liking, but it is true to the source design. The other accessory is the Secret Liquid of Life itself! Unfortunately, Geldor can't actually hold it, as both his hands have openings that are far too small. Still, I always like getting accessories like this, and it'll be useful as a prop with many different figures! I would also liked to have gotten the sword Geldor is seen wielding in the comic, as he seems a little light in this department.

Geldor is far from an essential MOTU character, but lovers of the classic minicomics will be very happy to have him. He's also an independent villain, which is always a cool addition to the collection. (I think I'll have him allied with Skeletor, though; Now that he's seeking vengeance on He-Man, they have a common enemy. It seems sensible that Geldor would seek a powerful ally in his vendetta against such a formidable foe. As for Skeletor, he doesn't need Geldor, but he's always down to use someone else for his own ends!) He's not the most visually interesting figure, but he's a cool character with an interesting backstory, and his roots go very far back in MOTU lore. As with Lodar, Geldor is a "figure that should have been," and it's about damn time we got him in plastic form! He may seem rather bland to those unfamiliar with him, but this figure captures the character every bit as well as I'd hoped. That's it for today, but keep scrolling down for more photos, and I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Strongarm (Strong-Or) figure

The beloved Filmation MOTU animated show featured quite a few original characters over the course of its run, and many of us who watched it as a child expected that we would get figures of some of these characters eventually. For whatever reason, that rarely happened; as it stands, Orko and the Sorceress were the only Filmation characters and designs that made an appearance in the vintage MOTU toyline. While the Sorceress was cool-- never mind that I never had a hope of finding her figure in a store when I was kid-- my childhood self would have traded Orko for literally anyone else from the show. As a kid who loved the villains, Strongarm, or Strong-Or, as Mattel has named this figure, was near the top of my want list. (Along with another Filmation villain that we'll be looking at in a couple of weeks!) For many MOTUC collectors, this figure is long overdue. His bio on the package gives him a backstory linking him to Queen Elmora, featured in the episode "She-Demon of Phantos," in which Strongarm was fairly prominent. This is pretty cool, as it actually gives him a strong motivation for his actions against Elmora in that episode. For all of the issues with the MOTUC bios, they do include some good ideas from time to time.

The sculpt by the Four Horsemen has translated the animated character's look into the MOTUC style quite well. All of the expected design elements are here, with an adequate amount of detail added to make him mesh with the rest of the line. There is some nice detailing on the armored parts, with rivets and spikes throughout. The head sculpt makes him look pretty vicious, though it's a shame about the rounded spikes. With their prominent placement, they really stand out, and their severe roundness lends the figure a bit of a Fisher Price feel that is very much out of place in this line. While Strongarm has the new parts he really needs to shine as a figure, he does reuse the standard torso, which means we have yet another figure whose costume features nipples and a navel. (Insert obligatory Joel Schumacher Batman reference here.) Overall, however, the sculpt definitely meets the standard set for this line.

Strongarm features mostly standard articulation for the line, with one difference. His right elbow features a swivel/hinge design, rather than the usual hinge. Apart from that, he has the usual hinged left elbow, knees, ankles, and torso, ball joints at head, shoulders, and hips, and cuts at the biceps, wrists, thighs, boot tops, and waist. The paint apps on my figure are pretty neat for the most part, but there is some noticeable slop here and there, most notably on the ears. Speaking of those ears, they're bright orange! They look rather goofy sticking out from the metal head, but it's accurate to the source material. Strongarm comes with two cool accessories. One is an extension for his metal arm, which pops on and off easily at the elbow joint. Thanks to the articulation model used for these figures, finding a stable pose even with the arm extension isn't difficult. His other accessory is a neat ray gun that I know I've seen in the cartoon at some point, but with a gun to my head I couldn't tell you which episode it featured in. It's always cool to get gear like this with the figures, even if they don't really go with the figure they're packaged with!

While he was never one of Skeletor's core group of henchmen, Strongarm fleshes out the ranks nicely, and Filmation fans will find him essential. It certainly doesn't hurt that he also has a cool look  with a giant fist that would make Fisto envious, and a nice, eye-catching color scheme. (As you can see in the photos, I couldn't help pairing him up with Faker, as his color scheme gives him a sort of reverse-Faker vibe.) I wouldn't rank him in the upper echelon of MOTUC figures, but Strongarm is a solid middle-of-the-pack figure, and I'm happy to add him to my shelf. that's all for today, but keep scrolling down for more photos, and I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Blade figure

We're tackling another character from the MOTU movie today! As I mentioned in Saurod's review, the movie was a pretty big disappointment to me as a child. I even went so far as to call Blade "a poor man's Tri-Klops." My feelings about the movie, and the villains it introduced, have softened over the years. I now consider Blade a pretty cool character. He's still no Tri-Klops, but he's much cooler than the other notable character who's known by the same name! ;) As an apparently normal human-type character, he really stands out among all the beasts and monsters in Skeletor's crew. (I'll mention here that actor Anthony de Longis, who portrayed Blade in the movie, did some great work promoting MOTUC subs for the year that Blade was to be produced. It's well worth checking out his video if you haven't seen it!)

The Four Horsemen always do great work with their sculpts, but occasionally a figure comes along that is a true standout, where they really just knock it out of the park. Blade is such a figure. This sculpt simply kills! Many of the parts are reused, of course, but there is a lot of new tooling here, and the detailing on all of these new pieces is exceptional. The face is one of the best in the entire line, with a facial expression that has plenty of personality, and a strong likeness to the actor. Unfortunately, the metal "wings" on the sides of the figure's head are made of a very soft rubbery plastic, and are already beginning to wilt. That aside, the sculpting on the rest of the figure is just as great. Every link of the chain mail is lovingly sculpted, and the bracers and wrist-mounted launcher are nicely detailed. The only plain-ish parts are the legs and boots, but those are accurate to the source material. Blade does suffer a bit from the "fat armor" syndrome, which is a shame. It makes the figure look bulkier than he really should, but it doesn't throw off his look too much. There is a small gap between the top and lower sections of armor at the waist that is pretty annoying, but I'm honestly not sure how that could have been avoided in any practical way.The armor could have been done all as one long piece, but that would interfere with the articulation far too much.

Blade's articulation is standard for the MOTUC line, with ball joints at the head, shoulders, and hips, joints at the torso, elbows, knees, ankles, and wrists, and swivels at the thighs, wrists, and waist. The armor interferes a bit with the torso hinge's range of motion, of course. Blade's accessories include two swords, one based on the swords seen in the movie, the other based on the vintage toy's, and his laser whip. The whip has a handle that, while movie-accurate, is pretty damn tough to get into his hand. (See the photo above.) Now that I've removed it during the course of taking photos for this review, I doubt I'll ever bother putting back in his hand. Having two swords is cool, but it's a little annoying that they don't match. (It's also annoying that they each have "CHINA" molded into them in very obvious places, but that's apparently just something we have to live with on these figures.) Even with all the new tooling this figure has, I don't think two of each sword, so we could have a matching set of the sword of our choice, is too much to ask. The swords are almost completely unpainted, which gives them a rather cheap look that doesn't mesh with the rest of the figure. Apart from that, paint apps on the figure are good. The silver & black color scheme on the armor is source-accurate and eye-catching, and the paint apps on the face turned out quite well. My one gripe here is that the large chest emblem has a lot of sculpted detail that doesn't show up very well because of the light silver color it's molded in. A wash with black, or a darker shade of silver or gray, would have made this really pop. (That's an easy fix, though; I'll definitely be applying a wash myself.)

While he's far from an essential figure for any MOTU collection, Blade is a cool character and an awesome figure that will flesh out the villains' shelf very nicely. He pairs up well with Saurod, of course, but also looks at home among the numerous muscle-bound barbarians and beasts in the MOTUC line. Now that a "totally not based on the movie version, but it really sort of is" Karg figure is on the way, we'll soon be able to unite the MOTU movie villains on our shelves for the very first time! Now they just need to find a way to make a movie Skeletor happen! (I still say the "future Skeletor" from the last couple of issues of Marvel's MOTU series from the mid-'80s is close enough, since a straight-up movie version is off the table!) That's it for today. Scroll down for many more photos, and come on back next week!