Friday, September 25, 2020

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Origins Sky Sled with Prince Adam figure

 One of the major drawbacks collectors have had to accept in recent years is that most toylines simply don't get vehicles and playsets. Sure, you'll see plenty for lines that tie in to big movies and TV shows, but outside of that, they are largely a thing of the past. As toy aisles continue to shrink, shelf space becomes ever more valuable, and larger items with a larger footprint on the shelf must belong to a line with strong enough sales to justify that space if retailers are expected to stock it. With all that in mind, the presence of something like the subject of today's review is a clear sign of the confidence Mattel has in its new-ish Master of the Universe Origins line. As part of the iconic Battle Ram, the Sky Sled is one of the most quintessential MOTU vehicles. Love him or hate him, Prince Adam is one of the property's most recognizable characters. Did Mattel do them justice with this latest iteration? Read on...

As with Battle Cat, I was absolutely floored by the beautiful packaging. Like the rest of the line, it recreates the look and feel of the vintage toys, and includes many details and homages to the vintage art. In fact, I was so taken by it that I overlooked this until I made it home and was about to open the thing.

Apparently Adam got too crazy on the dance floor and dislocated his pelvis. Good thing these figures snap right back together! Once I popped Achy Breaky Adam's waist back together, I put him through the usual joint checks and other tests a new figure must endure. His sculpt is the same as He-Man's, of course, though cast and painted in different colors. The color scheme mostly matches the vintage figure, but the vest is a bright pink instead of the maroon of the '80s version. Another difference is the choice of materials, as this figure's vest is made of a pliable plastic, rather than the soft goods of its vintage counterpart. The vest is glued shut, but can be slid off if you pop off the arms and legs. (Of course, you could always just cut it open, too!) A gloss coat over the bracers would have helped set them apart from the "shirt", but other than that, I'm satisfied with the figure's paint apps. Adam sports the line's standard articulation, with a ball-jointed head, swivels at the waist and boot tops, and swivel & hinge shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. As usual, most of these POAs pop apart for easy mixing & matching with other figures, though I recommend heating the elbows, knees, and ankles before trying to pop them apart. Adam's lone accessory is his sword, cast in a pink to match his vest. Interestingly, it's a full sword, rather than the half sword his alter ego is saddled with. It uses the Alcala look, but the handle is too thick for the figure to comfortably hold. You have to force it into his hand, and then it falls out a minute or two later. It's an odd design oversight, to say the least. 

The Sky Sled itself follows the general design of the vintage toy, with some embellishments taken from the vintage package art. There's a greater emphasis on firepower with this version, as the cannons are much larger than those on any previous version of this vehicle. The cannons and rear thrusters are cast in a silvery plastic, while the rest of the sled is cast in the familiar dark blue. The front cannon swivels side to side, and any of the figures released so far can fit into the seat to pilot the sled. The gargoyle head and side panels can be removed and swapped out for alternate "evil" versions, allowing for some easy customization. Completing the package is a flight stand with some khaki colored terrain as its base. The stand pops into place easily, and removes with a little force. The sled can tilt and swivel while the base is attached, allowing for a nice range of poses. (Note that the stand does not work with the MOTU Classics vehicles, as the plug is a different size.) Rounding out the accessories is a very cool laser blast effect that can plug into the front cannon. It's cast in a translucent plastic, stays in place easily, and looks cool doing it!

The Sky Sled is a fantastic choice for the line's first vehicle, and Mattel has done a great job with it. They took a vehicle that was sure to sell anyway, and really went the extra mile and included those swappable parts to basically make it two vehicles in one! The oversized cannons may bother some, but in my view, they're just big enough without becoming comical. (They'll look even better once I get around to customizing this thing and painting in the sculpted details!) The Sky Sled itself is small enough that it would be a tough sell at $30, even packed with a figure, but the flight stand and swappable parts give it that little extra oomph it needs to justify that price. Many collectors will already want to army build the Sky Sled, and the ability to make an "evil" version of it only increases that temptation! That brings us to the major drawback of this set: the pack-in figure. Adam is a decent enough figure, but for a vehicle like this that encourages multiple purchases, the included figure really should have been an army builder. Swapping Adam out for a palace guard would have made this a damn near perfect set. As it is, a lot of collectors are gonna wind up with a few extra Adams lying around gathering dust! Since Adam is a top-tier character that could easily sell on his own as a single-packed figure, his inclusion here is even more mystifying. Still, whatever the reasoning behind it, Adam is the figure we got. This is a great set that is well worth buying, but the inclusion of a unique character makes army building a much tougher sell. And I still want the rest of the Battle Ram soon, you hear me, Mattel? That's it for today, but be sure to hack and slash your way back here next week for another review! Until then, happy hunting, and stay safe out there!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Thoughts on the Masters of the Universe Origins Castle Grayskull leak

 Within the last 24 hours, a photo of what appears to be the MOTU Origins Castle Grayskull has been making the rounds online. It was apparently found in the files of a German retailer's website, promptly uploaded to, and from there, it quickly spread across the 'net. Note that while this seems legit, it is not official, and even it is is real, we don't know how close to this image the final product will be. 

There's a lot to unpack here. At first glance, it bears a strong overall resemblance to the vintage Grayskull, which should come as no surprise to anyone. That said, there are enough differences to make it distinct and interesting in its own right. One of the first things I noticed is the brown jawbridge. This seems an odd decision, as the vintage castle looked fine with it molded in the same green as the rest of the castle. I had no problem believing there are green trees on Eternia! While the brown chosen might make the door look better from the outside, the jawbridge itself suffers. Hopefully this is something that will change before this version of Grayskull, if it is indeed legitimate, enters production. If not, it can be repainted, so it's really not a huge deal. The weapons rack is present, though it has fewer weapons included than any previous version of Grayskull. The ladder is much wider, and actually looks functional for the figures. It's a bit difficult to make out, but behind the ladder, we can see what appears to be the torture rack that was scrapped from the final version of the vintage Grayksull! That is a very interesting inclusion, if that is what it actually turns out to be. The dungeon sticker appears to be on the floor underneath it. Finishing off the first floor is the elevator, looking very much like its vintage counterpart.

On the second floor, we have a sculpted version of the viewscreen, which was represented by a cardboard cutout in the vintage castle. The Sorceress appears in her Temple of Darkness minicomic color scheme, presumably as a pack-in figure. I'm glad to see her in the white costume, as that has long been my preferred version of her. The banners hanging on the wall look very similar to those included in the MOTU Classics Grayskull, and may well be reused from it. The control console, like the viewscreen, is sculpted, instead of a simple cardboard insert. The space suit, sadly, is not present. The throne looks very much like the vintage version. The sticker over the trapdoor appears to be on the floor, and we can only assume that it works as the vintage version did. On the castle parapets we have the laser cannon, flag, and, oddly enough, the combat trainer. I like the addition of a third platform here. 

A few more general observations: The overall shell seems much more shallow than the vintage version, though it's difficult to tell for sure. There also doesn't appear to be an actual hinge, but just a seam in the plastic that allows the castle to open and close. If this photo is legit, let's hope that this is a prototype version, and that the final toy will have actual hinges. I was hoping for a Grayskull that looked far more like the early Mark Taylor prototype and Alfredo Alcala's rendering of it, but that doesn't seem to be what we're getting here, though the torture rack is a nice (and surprising!) homage to it. The inclusion of the "chess piece" on top of the facade and the ledge on the right side would go a long way toward achieving a middle ground between vintage toy and that prototype version. While I'm glad to see the ToD Sorceress, I would prefer a pack-in figure to be a character we're not likely to get as a single-packed figure, like a King Grayskull statue figure, Castle Grayskull Man, or an actual figure version of the space suit that seems to have been nixed altogether. The prototype version of the throne would be nice, as well. Extending the top ledge all the way across would also increase play and display space. I'd also love to get the Spirit of Grayskull piece that was slated for inclusion with the MOTU Classics Grayskull at one point! 

While there's quite a bit we can see in this low-res photo, it's important to keep in mind what we cannot deduce. Most obviously, we can't see the front of the castle. Here's hoping it has some of the more ghoulish teeth and detailing seen in the vintage Taylor prototype and Alcala renderings, but we really won't know until more photos surface. This castle isn't perfect, but I do dig it. It's different enough from previous Grayskulls to have its own charm and identity, and should hold plenty of appeal to any kids who have bought into the Origins line. (Kids are the primary audience for this line, after all. Adult collectors have a tendency to forget that the toy world doesn't revolve around them!) According to a Target listing found earlier this year, the castle may retail for $75. Given what we see here, that seems about right. For now, we'll just have to wait until more details surface, hopefully in an official capacity from Mattel itself. That's it for today, but feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, and trek on back in two days for another MOTU Origins review. Until then, happy hunting, and stay safe out there!

Friday, September 11, 2020

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Origins Man-at-Arms figure

 Oh, it was an epic moment. I checked Brickseek while taking a quick break at work, and the furthest Walmart in town from my house was showing the MOTU Origins assortment case as in stock. As the hours dragged by, I resolved to drive over there in the hopes of finding the final wave one figure I needed. My hopes were not high.These things have been selling quickly, and the assortment cases in particular seem to evaporate within minutes of being stocked. Plus, this Walmart is the biggest and most heavily shopped in town, and collectors who live much closer to it than I do keep it pretty well cleaned out. Still, I had to check. Walking to the aisle, my mask cinched tight, keeping my distance from the denizens of Walmart as best I could, I mentally prepared myself for what I would likely see: A few pegs, probably empty, but with perhaps a Skeletor or He-Man or two hanging there, mocking me for not arriving earlier. 

Instead, I was greeted by this sight: 

The packages for these three were heavily damaged-- it's much worse than is apparent in the photo-- and that's probably why they were still there. Many adult collectors will pass on something in this shape, but for me, the package is just something to be ripped open, then tossed into the trash. (I do save the cardbacks on these for the cool art, though!) Green leotard-clad warrior in hand, I strolled to the checkout. Was this fella worth all the trouble? Read on...

Like his fellow wave one figures, Man-at-Arms is a more sharply-sculpted version of the vintage figure, with the head standing out as the one real point of departure. To make the figure jive better with most of his depictions in various media, MAA now has a mustache! Whether this is good or bad will depend on your personal preference; for my part, while I prefer the depictions in the early minicomics for pretty much everything, I actually like MAA with a 'stache. While I do hope we get one without it in the future for variety's sake, I'm quite satisfied with this head for now. (Some collectors have pointed out a resemblance to Jack Black, and it's definitely hard not to notice it once you've seen it!) As with the vintage figure, MAA sports a more detailed sculpt than most of the other figures in the line, with lots of tiny details sculpted into his armor and helmet. While the green body is supposed to be armor, there is no 2002-style detailing here, and the the figure is the exact same sculpt as He-Man from the neck down. This is true to the line's mission statement, so no foul there. 

The paint apps are sparse, but again, true to the spirit of the Origins line. Most everything is cast in the appropriate color, and the few paint apps the figure has are neat and clean, particularly on the face. Some may take issue with the hair color chosen, but as there is no real canonical hair color for the character-- the vintage figure's sculpted hair was unpainted, and its color varied across different media, from brown, to gray, to black, to blonde on the cross-sell art-- so I can't fault them for this. It's an easy enough fix for anyone who wishes to change it. (I'm partial to dark brown, personally.) It wouldn't have killed them to paint in the red dots on the helmet, as a reference to the early run vintage figures, but that's really not a big deal.

Man-at-Arms sports the standard articulation for the line, with a ball-jointed head, swivels at the boot tops and waist, and swivel & hinge shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. All points of articulation work well, with a nice range of motion, and hold poses with no issues. As I've said before about these figures, this is a very well-designed articulation model, and I like it quite a bit. The parts pop apart and reassemble easily at most POAs, though I recommend heating the elbows, knees, and ankles before trying to disassemble them, as you're liable to break them otherwise.

Man-at-Arms comes loaded with accessories, including his four pieces of armor, his mace, and the standard wave one minicomic. The mace has caused a bit of debate, with some collectors expressing disappointment that the designers mimicked the one included with the vintage toy, rather than the larger version seen in early minicomics and cross sell art. I'm torn on this personally, as I can see the logic behind both. While the line does have some influence from the early minicomics, its chief inspiration is clearly the vintage toys, so I can't say I was surprised by their decision. (At any rate, I have extras of the MOTU Classics mace lying around if I decide the figure needs an upgrade!) The armor looks good, and goes on and off with no issues. The arm armor is designed a bit differently due to the added articulation, however. It's in two sections, with the middle "flex"portion designed so that it can overlap when the arm is straightened, similar to the design of the MOTU Classics version. (This is demonstrated in the photo a couple of paragraphs down.) It works well enough, though the lower section is prone to slipping down at times. As for the minicomic-- I hope this is the last time I'll have to type this-- while it's very short and underwhelming, it still feels awesome to be getting an honest-to-god minicomic with a figure in this day and age! Hopefully the quality of them improves in the future. 

As one of the handful of key characters in pretty much every iteration of MOTU across all media, Man-at-Arms is one of those figures that anyone who collects this line at all is bound to pick up. With that in mind, it's nice to see that Mattel's designers pretty much nailed it right out of the gate. While some optional extras like clean-shaved & helmet-less heads, or different versions of the mace, or additional weapons will be nice to get with upcoming figures or--dare we hope-- an updated version of the Weapons Pak, this is a great basic version of this essential character. While the figure holds no real surprises, it delivers all you really need in a Man-at-Arms figure, and is definitely worth having to do a bit of driving around to find. That's all for today, but be sure to don your armor and battle your way back next week for more! Until then, happy hunting, and stay safe out there!

BONUS: Check out my Man-at-Arms after I spent some time repainting him! I love the weathered look his armor has now; it definitely looks like it's seen a  lot of use! I also had to repaint his hair, as the black just didn't look right to me. A bit of paint washes and some metallic paint make a world of difference with these figures! (Apologies for the use of the flash; after finishing the repaint, I didn't have access to my usual photography spot, and the area just wasn't lit all that well, so the flash was necessary.)

Friday, September 4, 2020

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Origins Battle Cat figure

There are few certainties in life, and fewer still that are comforting. One thing we can always rely on: When a new Masters of the Universe line makes the scene, He-Man won't be expected to hoof it everywhere. Nope, he will have his old buddy Battle Cat! In the vintage line, Battle Cat-- or Big BC, as his friends call him-- quickly grew beyond his roots as a cheap reuse of an old mold from Mattel's earlier Big Jim and Tarzan lines to become one of the handful of absolutely essential characters in all of  MOTU, and one of the biggest pop culture icons of the '80s. When someone buys a He-Man figure, they also want Battle Cat to accompany him. The two are practically inseparable. And so it is with Mattel's new-ish Masters of the Universe Origins line! How does the newest iteration of the big green cat fare? Read on...

From the moment you see him on the shelf, Battle Cat benefits greatly from the presentation of this line. The vintage-inspired artwork is gorgeous, emulating the original art by Rudy Obrero, while still standing on its own two legs. There are numerous tiny details and Easter eggs for sharp-eyed viewers, and the overall effect is one that made me reluctant to open the damn thing. I'm not a MOC collector, so any package that makes me hesitant to rip into it is  a special thing indeed! As with the rest of the line, the sculpt is evocative of the vintage figure, but more sharply detailed. There's a great deal more fur texture sculpted, and the front rows of teeth between the canines are actually sculpted. It's not as detailed as the Classics version, but then, I don't think anyone was expecting it to be. That's not what the Origins line is aiming for. (Unfortunately, my vintage, 2002, and Classics Battle Cats are in storage, and thus unavailable for comparison shots.) 

BC doesn't require much in the way of paint apps, but even so, what's present isn't all that it should be. The yellow stripes are mostly neat, but there are some gaps in areas where the underlying sculpted fur is a bit thicker than in others. This is most apparent on his shoulders. The tail is unpainted, as with most vintage BCs, but given this line's mission statement, I think it should have been striped like the BC prototype and very early production run. The eyes are left the same green as the head was molded in, but they did at least apply a nice gloss coat to give them a bit of a sheen. The rows of teeth between the canines were left unpainted. The body would also have greatly benefited from a light wash, but I'm not really expecting paint washes and the like from this line, so I won't hold that against them. The saddle and helmet also feature a few gloss coats on a few spots, such as the protruding horns. The helmet also features painted eyes, a first for a BC toy! They're too Filmation-y for my liking, but it's nice that they did it. (I always display my BC without the helmet, anyway.) 

BC's articulation is a mixed bag. He fares far better than his counterparts from the vintage and 2002 lines, but falls short of the Classics version. He's so close to having everything he needs that it's frustrating. BC has a swivel hinge joint at the tail and knees, swivels at the hips with very limited outward movement, a hinged jaw, and a wonderful ball-jointed head. The lack of ankle articulation of any kind really hurts him, as it limits the poses he can strike, and makes many of the poses he can hold look unnatural. You can't even get him into the iconic pose his vintage counterpart was sculpted in! The range of motion for the head is fantastic, though. That one POA alone is so well implemented that it can add much expressiveness to the figure. The tail helps with this, as well. It's a good thing, since he's pretty much destined to just stand with his legs straight underneath him. BC's only accessories are his saddle and helmet, and that's really all he needs. They fit in place well and are easy to remove, and He-Man (or any of the figures released so far) fits into the saddle perfectly. 

I admit that I was on the fence about buying this version of Battle Cat at first, and I considered digging out my Classics BC to use, instead. That may actually be the best option for anyone who has a Classics BC, but as he is very expensive on the secondary market, this Origins version is the best bet for anyone who doesn't already own one. His articulation is the big sticking point, but it's still a vast improvement over the vintage and 2002 versions. I don't regret buying him, and I like him quite a bit more than this summation probably makes it sound. I really do wish Mattel had implemented those ankle hinges, though, as that would have made a huge difference. However, let's face it: If you're collecting this line, you've gotta have a Battle Cat, and unless you already own another one, or have lots of disposable income, this is the only game in town. It's not a bad purchase, and kids will certainly care less about the limited articulation than we adult collectors do, but it's a shame that some questionable work from the design team holds it back. That's it for this week, but be sure to ride your over-sized jungle cat back next week for more! Until then, happy hunting, and stay safe out there!