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!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Optikk figure

As much nostalgic goodwill as there is for MOTU, The New Adventures of He-Man, 1990's attempt to revive the property, is... let's be generous and say somewhat less well-remembered. The reasons for this could be debated endlessly; personally, I didn't care for it much when I was a kid because it jettisoned virtually everything that made MOTU what it was, transposing Skeletor and He-Man into a futuristic sci-fi setting that was infinitely less interesting to me. Still, I would have been interested in adding the toys, some of which had some very cool designs, to my MOTU collection, but even that didn't work for me because the toys themselves were so different aesthetically. Instead of the thickly-muscled beasts and heroes who looked like the most powerful beings in the universe, the NA figures were scrawny and unimpressive in comparison. Combine that with the difficulty I had finding any of the toys in my area, and I quickly stopped caring, and just continued to wish for more MOTU figures to be made someday.

When it was made clear that NA characters would be getting figures in the MOTUC line, fan reaction was mixed, to say the least. For my part, I had nothing against the NA characters, it was just the style of the toys I didn't like back in the day. With them rendered in the MOTUC style, I was all for including those characters! More cool figures is a good thing, right? (Quite a few of the MOTUC collectors don't think so, but that's an entirely separate rant, so let's just stick a pin in it for now.) As the first representative from NA in the MOTUC line, Optikk carried the burden of legitimizing the NA characters in the eyes of many. Did he succeed? Read on to find out!

As per usual, the sculpting is excellent. Optikk makes use of parts previously seen on Trap Jaw, with a torso overlay to personalize it and house the "head." The overlay is loaded with details, with lots of rivets and wires running all over it. It's pretty crazy how close they were able to get to the original figure's design using parts from a figure that didn't exist in the NA line. The "heads" are a letdown in the sculpting department, unfortunately. This was a golden opportunity for the Four Horsemen to go crazy with the sculpting, as the giant eyeballs could have had some cybernetic veins and wires running over them. Instead, they're completely plain apart from the plastic iris. The plastic irises are very well done, but it's a damn shame that the rest is just a plain expanse of bland whiteness.

Articulation is standard for the line, though the abdominal hinge is limited a bit due to the torso overlay. The "head" is a bit tougher to pose than usual due to the same overlay, but it seems to have about the same range of motion. You just have to work it a bit to get it where you want it. Paint apps are mostly clean, with lots of detail on the wiring and rivets. The gold and black with red and purple accents is a very eye-catching color scheme, and the figure is well-served by it. Accessories include a laser gun, shield, and the previously mentioned extra "head." Apparently this is to appease fans of both the NA toyline and cartoon, as the giant eyeball sported a different colored iris in each. This also opens up the opportunity to have a pair of Optikks, each with a different eyeball, if one is so inclinced. (I have him armed with a sword that I think fits well with the figure's look in some of the photos, but it is not included with the figure. Plus, I just think it's funny to arm a guy with a giant eyeball head with a large pointy weapon!)

Whether or not you like the NA storyline, Optikk makes a fine addition to Skeletor's army. With a group that includes all manner of cyborgs, monsters, and animal-human hybrids, Optikk fits right in. I can see him serving perfectly as a lookout for Snake Mountain, standing atop one of its peaks. (Assuming a MOTUC Snake Mountain ever gets made!) He's definitely not a must-have, but as with Goat Man, if you like the oddballs as I do, he'll make a fine addition to your collection. That's it for today, but creep on back Tuesday for the Halloween figure review! (You can probably guess what figure it is if you know anything about me at all!)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Trap Jaw figure

Trap Jaw is one of the finest examples of the versatility of the MOTU universe: damn near anything can fit right into it. A space pirate mercenary cyborg Frankenstein monster? Sure, no problem! Back in the day, Trap Jaw was certainly one of the most eye-catching figures. I was instantly taken with him, and he was a star player in my MOTU adventures, frequently teamed with another favorite, Tri-Klops. (Both were released at the same time, and both had the glow-in-the-dark "warrior's ring" packaged with them, forever linking them in my mind.) Making him even more intriguing was his origin story in the included minicomic: During one of Skeletor's schemes to enter Castle Grayskull via traveling through another dimension, Trap Jaw wound up inside the castle himself, forming a link with its power. Emerging from the castle, Trap Jaw proceeded to lay waste to all before him, forcing He-Man to join forces with Skeletor to defeat him!

Of course, the 2002 cartoon and comic series lent him a different origin, which has been adopted into the MOTUC canon. The pirate and mercenary Kronis worked for Keldor during his bid to conquer the kingdom of Eternia and claim the throne that was his by right. After Keldor was transformed into Skeletor, the two came to be enemies, and Kronis was royally fucked up by his former master. Tri-Klops used his machines to save his life and replace his lost limbs with cybernetic parts, transforming him into Trap Jaw. It's a less impressive origin, but it certainly isn't without its merits. (And since the original minicomic didn't actually show us how he became Trap Jaw, the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive!)

The sculpt on this figure is incredible. Since this was an update to a childhood favorite of mine, and the 2002 figure remains one of my favorite toys ever, the Four Horsemen had a lot to live up to, and they did it. There is some parts reuse, of course, but the majority of parts are new, and the work is excellent across the board. The mechanical arm lacks the crazy awesome details of the 2002 figure, of course, but it is still very cool. The head is the real star here, with a batshit crazy expression on Trappy's face, and the gruesome remnants of the lower part of his face lurking below his mechanical jaw. The one gripe I have with the sculpting is that all of the metal parts are perfectly smooth, and it would be nice to have some little dents and dings to show some of the wear and tear from all of the battles this guy participates in.

Articulation is standard for the line, with one exception: the mechanical jaw moves, which is a nice touch. Paint apps are good overall, though there are a few areas where they could be better. The green is a bit thin on the top of his face, allowing some of the underlying pinkish red to show through. The eyes are also a bit crooked, but thankfully, the "crazy eyes" look works very well for the character, so I don't hold that against the figure. The metallic blue accents on the arms and legs are nicely done, and help differentiate between blue skin and blue armor very nicely on the left arm. There are also some nice metallic accents on parts of the belt. Accessories are another area where Trap Jaw really shines. Not only does he include his three arm attachments, he has an extra head and arm, so you can swap out those parts and have a figure of Kronis! (Also included is an update of the warrior's ring that was packaged with the vintage figure. I forgot to dig it out when I was taking the photos for this review, d'oh!) This essentially makes Trap Jaw two figures in one, which greatly increases the value for the money. It's also really friggin' cool! The sculpting on these pieces is on the same level as the rest of the figure, and the head is especially good. The 4H have managed to create an alternate head that's nearly as compelling as the crazy-ass main head, which is no small feat!

Trap Jaw became my favorite figure in the entire line upon his original release in early 2010. Now, seven and a half years later, I think he still might be the single greatest figure in the MOTUC line. Your mileage may vary, of course, but for my money, Trap Jaw represents the finest hour of a toyline that has produced some incredible action figures. Unless you just hate the character-- and honestly, even if you do-- this is one of those figures you simply must own. That's it for today, but scroll down for more photos, and creep on back tomorrow for the next review!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Beast Man figure

I know, I know; I promised last time that I'd be reviewing monster-type figures each week during October, to sort of stick with the Halloween theme, since real life crap prevents me from doing the daily Halloween posts I normally do. Alas, that same real life crap prevented me from even getting a review together last week, so I'm behind again. Have no worries, as this is one of several reviews I'm writing (and photographing) back to back to ensure that you'll have five monster-ish figure reviews by the end of this month, culminating on Halloween itself! So, this week, I'll feature a review in the usual Tuesday slot, along with an additional one tomorrow, and another one Thursday!

With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let's dive right into today's review. With most of the MOTUC stuff I'm buying these days not fitting into the month's theme, I'll be drawing from my older figures for a few of them. Today, it's Beast Man, one of the original releases in the MOTUC line! Way back in 2008, King Grayskull was the line's inaugural release at San Diego Comic-Con, followed by He-Man and Beast Man that December. I was all-in for the line from day one, and Beast Man was an early example of exactly how great this collection of figures could be.

The quintessential henchmen, Beast Man was an ever-present character in all forms of MOTU media, from the comics, to the cartoons, storybooks, and live-action movie. The hirsute henchman has always been at his master's side. Like everyone on the Filmation cartoon, Beast Man seemed to have suffered some severe brain injury, as he was utterly incompetent, and he didn't fare much better in other portrayals. To my childhood self, however, he possessed a feral cunning that, coupled with his raw power, made him a terrifying force that only his master could hold in check. In the early minicomics, Beast Man was a formidable foe, even capable of taking out He-Man on occasion. (As seen above! It was pretty cool to see He-Man just get his ass kicked by henchmen from time to time. The completely invincible demi-god he became once the Filmation cartoon made the scene was far less interesting to me.) I was a big fan of the Four Horsemen's redesign of the character from the 2002 line, and while this figure draws mostly from the vintage figure and the concept art of the character, there is a bit of the 2002 version present, as well. 

Beast Man was the debut of the furry body that we would see many times throughout the MOTUC line, and it allowed the 4H to really cut loose with the detail. The fur is exceptionally detailed, but not to the point that it doesn't fit in aesthetically with the rest of the line. The left hand features the spiked weapon that was present on the vintage figure, a detail that is often overlooked. His left hand is sculpted to hold accessories, while the right is in an open-handed gesture. The head sculpt is excellent, with similar level of detail, and an expression of pure bestial rage that tells you everything you really need to know about the character. The furry chest armor continues the detailed sculpting, and perfectly updates the vintage design. It's shaped in such a way that it lends the figure quite a bit of bulk. As the furry body is rather lean, this is most welcome, and the added bulk suits the character very well. The bicep armor has a nice worn metallic texture, showing scars of many past battles. It's worth noting that there is a large mold line on the furry armor, but it is on the back of it, so while it's very obvious, it won't be visible unless you plan to display the figure staring at the wall. 

Articulation is standard for the line, with no sign of the loose ankles or limited range of motion in the ball-jointed head that would plague some future figures. The paint apps are very good, for the most part; most lines are very clean, particularly on the facial details, which is impressive considering how many there are. Some slop with the facial coloring would result in Beast Man looking more like a prison bitch than a beast lord, so this is a pretty important area to get right. There's a very nice paint wash on the armor that really makes the details pop. The only gripe I have, and it's a minor one, is the plain blue on the medallion. It's such a large area that it really needs some additional paint apps, ore even just a good paint wash, to make it fit in with the otherwise excellent work. As it is, it looks a bit out of place among all the detailed paint apps. Beast Man's lone accessory, apart from his armor, is his whip. It emulates the basic design of the vintage weapon, but since it is made specifically for the figure, it's scaled appropriately, and can actually be held properly. (The vintage figure's whip was re-used from Mattel's larger-scaled Big Jim line, so the figure could only hold it by the hand guard, as the actual handle was far too large.) The whip is very soft, rubbery plastic, so it drapes pretty well and looks good with most poses.

As Skeletor's chief henchman/whipping boy, Beast Man is one of the handful of figures that is absolutely essential for any MOTU collection, so it's a good thing that his figure was executed so well. The MOTUC line has had many, many high points over the years, and Beast Man remains one of the best figures in the entire line. Even after several reissues, he remains very pricey on the secondary market, which is a shame for latecomers to the MOTUC line, as he really is a must-have figure. That's all for today, but scroll down for more photos, and be sure to creep on back tomorrow for this week's first bonus review!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Classics Serpentine King Hiss figure

It's October, which means it's my favorite time of the year: the Halloween season! (It begins for me in the second half of August, but everyone else is on board by now!) Since I sadly don't have the time to do the daily Halloween-themed posts I've done in years past, each figure review this month will focus on monster-type figures. (Even though real life crap made me miss last week, d'oh! There will be a bonus review sometime this month to make up for that.) Anyway, off we go with King Hiss!

As one of the main faction leaders in the MOTU universe, it was inevitable that King Hiss (or Hssss, as Mattel spells it these days) would receive a couple of refreshes in the MOTUC line. However, unlike Skeletor, He-Man, and Hordak, Hiss only had one figure produced in the vintage line. So, for awhile, there was much speculation about exactly what new versions of the character in figure form would entail. As it turned out, this version of the character was produced because the original MOTUC Hiss was rather sub-par.

Oh, the original MOTUC King Hiss was sculpted well, of course. With the Four Horsemen at the helm, that was always a given. His human "disguise" was a perfectly executed update of the original. However, despite his snake form no longer having to fit inside the humanoid shell, as the vintage version did, the snake form was still based on how the vintage version looked. It had the same stubby proportions, and an overall unimpressive look. Certainly not the nightmarish creature King Hiss was supposed to be! Enter Serpentine King Hiss. Originally just a new torso that would attach to the original King Hiss waist, it wound up becoming an entire new figure. With the 4H cutting loose on an all-new, unleashed snake form, and some clever reuse of the legs from Rattlor, we got a totally badass update to the King of the Snake Men.

This new sculpt is evocative of Earl Norem's rendition of Hiss, as seen in this poster from the MOTU magazine. The 4H went all out with this sculpt, packing in the detail. Each scale is lovingly sculpted, and even the interior of each serpent's mouth is detailed. The serpent heads have a couple of different poses and sizes, giving them some sense of individuality. One small issue is that the lower jaw on the main snake head is a separate piece, so there is a very obvious seam. It blends in well on the sides of the head, but it's impossible to miss from the front. It hurts the look of the figure a bit, but given the realities of production, I'm not really sure how else this could have been done. It's not a huge problem, but it is something worth noting. The legs, as mentioned, were  previously seen with Rattlor and one of the snake men army builders. This breaks with the norm, as the disguised humanoid legs were always used previously, but I'm very glad the 4H broke with tradition here. Not only does it further differentiate this from the previous MOTUC Hiss, it simply makes more sense. It always looked odd to have those normal green human legs remain the same, while the top was an eruption of serpents. This fully transformed version of Hiss looks very intimidating indeed!

Articulation is the MOTUC standard from the waist down. The main serpent head has a cut neck, and the six long snake limbs are bendy. Some collectors seem to really dislike bendy limbs, and I don't exactly love them myself, but it really seems to be the best option here. The one big drawback here is that the jaw on the main head should be articulated. It's already a separate piece, so it should have been connected on a hinge, rather than simply glued into place. The tongue could be removable, so we'd have more options for displaying our snaked-out King Hiss. As far as accessories go, Hiss is pretty loaded. He has a very cool mid-transformation head, designed to work with the original MOTUC Hiss figure, but it will snap right on to most figures in the line if you so desire. He also has an arsenal of weapons, all previously seen with the snake men army builder two-pack. He has a spear, a sword, a shield, and a particularly nasty-looking mace. He can't actually hold any of them-- not in any sort of convincing way, at least-- but these can be used to outfit other figures in your collection. There's a general snake motif on all of them, but it's subtle enough on all but the shield that these weapons will work with figures from any faction.

While there was much rancor over Serpentine King Hiss becoming a full figure, rather than simply the torso as a subscriber bonus, as originally promised, I do feel this made for a much better figure in the end. (There is definitely some validity in the dissatisfaction over Mattel breaking yet another promise to its customers, though.) Making it a full figure enables it to stand on its own, rather than limiting its usefulness to those who had already bought the original figure years earlier. It's a shame that it took two tries for King Hiss to be done properly, but I can't hold that against this figure. It's simply awesome, and as one of the main faction leaders, this is a must-have for MOTUC collectors.