Friday, March 26, 2021

Rant Review: Masters of the Universe Origins Deluxe Battle Armor Skeletor and Battle Armor He-Man figures

 Variants tend to be a standard feature of mass retail toylines, and one with which adult collectors have a love/hate relationship. Variants are not inherently bad; refreshes of the main characters in a line help keep them available for purchase in one form or another, enabling new customers to get into a line and begin building their own collection. But there are times when toy companies go overboard, and any longtime collector can surely name a few examples of this right offhand. Batman lines, for instance, are infamous for basically being entire lines of variants, with a handful of unique characters peppered in here and there. This can work with a character as huge as Batman, particularly since there is a precedent for him using a variety of different costumes in his war on crime. However, this mentality does not apply to all lines, as we sadly witnessed with the 2002 incarnation of Masters of the Universe. Despite the peg-clogging glut of He-Man and Skeletor figures in an array of outfits that would make Barbie red with envy, which eventually strangled the line at retail, there were still a pair of variants collectors actually wanted to see: The Battle Armor figures. While there was a pair of figures released under that moniker, they were Battle Armor figures in name only, as their designs had virtually nothing in common with the beloved vintage versions. We would have to wait until the MOTU Classics line entered its second full year to get true Battle Armor variants again, and even those lacked the action feature that longtime MOTU fans remembered so fondly. At last, the MOTU Origins line has brought us new fully functional versions of the Battle Armor figures as part of their subline of deluxe figures. Can they possibly live up to their vintage inspirations? Read on...

The Battle Armor figures were hugely popular back in the '80s, even becoming the standard version of the characters for much of the promotional and package art, as well as in the hearts of many fans. They cast a very long shadow, and the announcement of these figures was met with a predictable mix of excitement and apprehension among the collector community. While it was awesome that we would be getting them as part of the line, there were some nitpicks that many of us noticed. Why are the rotating parts of the armor so much smaller? Why is He-Man's armor a matte gray instead of metallic silver? Why does He-Man have a DBZ effect on his sword? Having these in hand, I'm thankful that these issues, while they may continue to annoy some, fade far into the background in light of how cool these figures are. 

The majority of the sculpts are very familiar to anyone who has been collecting this line, as the arms, legs, and crotches are the same ones we've already seen so many times. The heads, torsos, and some of the accessories are new. The armored torsos are based on their vintage counterparts, of course, with a few modifications to accommodate the different construction of these figures. This results in the infamous shrunken "drums," as that rotating piece had to be narrowed because of the way the arms are attached to the Origins figures. It looks fine on Skeletor, as the design of his armor allows it to blend in better then it does on He-Man's. Big blondie's armor does indeed look a little odd to those of use who are accustomed to how the battle armor is "supposed" to look, but honestly, it's not that bad, and I've gotten used to it. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it no longer bothers me. The feature works perfectly on three of my figures, while one of my Skeletors has a drum that tends to stick a bit sometimes. The details on Skeletor's armor is a little soft, particularly on the skull that adorns the front. As always, I expect the detailing on these figures to be a bit sharper than on the vintage figures. We've seen them achieve that on several of them, and it's always a bit disappointing to see them fall short of that standard. The armor now has a loop on the back to hold a weapon, a nice change that I was glad to see. Not all weapons will fit, but the swords slip in and out easily, and I was able to get He-Man's axe in there with no trouble. 

The new heads have been the source of much debate. Each figure has a head inspired by the vintage figures, and while neither of them are exact duplicates, they do look very close. I didn't dislike the heads on the standard Origins figures the way many collectors did, but I do prefer these. Each figure also has a more expressive head attached to the figure in the package. He-Man is either yelling a battle cry or gasping in astonishment, depending on how well the paint was applied, while Skeletor has a delightful exaggerated frown. I've seen a lot of criticism for these new heads, but I quite like both of them. He-Man's really lives or dies based on the quality of the paint apps, as we'll see in a bit, but I unabashedly love Skeletor's pissy frown. I really enjoy having different expressions to choose from with these figures, and it's awesome that Mattel is giving us so many options. Keep 'em coming! 

The articulation is standard. Both figures have swivel & hinge shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles, swivels at the waist and boot tops, and ball-jointed heads. Note that the waists don't seem to be designed with easy part-swapping in mind. At least, mine don't simply pop apart, and I didn't want to risk breaking any of them by applying too much force. The other parts pop apart as normal, and as always, I recommend heating the hips, elbows, and knees before separating them, just to be on the safe side. Each figure has an array of accessories to help justify the higher price. In addition to the extra heads, each figure has a grasping left hand that can be swapped with the gesturing hand. I really like seeing this, though I would also like to have a gesturing right hand for each figure to give us even more posing options. Skeletor also has his standard Havoc Staff and half sword, and for the first time, a shield! He-Man has his half sword and axe. The shield has been omitted in favor of a cool translucent energy effect that can be slipped over the sword. If you remove Skeletor's hand, you can fit it over the stump so that it looks like he's blasting someone. This is a cool piece, and I hope we get more accessories of this nature. I've said it before, but I really believe that accessory-light figures such as Stratos and Zodac should be coming with stuff like this. (Unfortunately, my little niece made off with both of my energy blast pieces, so they were unavailable when I was photographing the figures for this review.) It's also worth noting that both figures' weapons (with the exception of Skeletor's Havoc Staff) have a cool metallic finish to match their battle armor. This is a nice touch, and gives us more display options. The minicomic for the first wave of deluxe figures is also included. It's decent enough, though the difficulties of telling a halfway decent story in just a few pages continues to be a problem. Also, Skeletor does. Not. GROVEL!!! Anyway, it's still awesome that we're getting actual minicomics with these. If these figures had also had the gesturing right hands I mentioned and a full version of their respective swords, they'd be a slam-dunk on the accessory front. As it is, they're pretty damn good! 

The quality and consistency of paint apps is proving to be the bane of this line-- aside from actually finding them, of course-- and that is on full display here. I ordered two sets of these figures from BBTS-- One for me, and a pair for  my little niece to play with-- and the contrast between the two sets really shows the inconsistency in the quality of paint apps in this line. Most of the paint work is neat enough, certainly for what can reasonably be expected from a mass-produced toy, but there are some issues. there is a bit of slop here and there, most noticeably on He-Man's boots, but nothing too bad. One of the biggest and most consistent problems with these figures is with He-Man's yelling head. I have seen many, many photos in which this head looks... let's be nice and say "odd." One of mine falls into this category, and it's entirely due to the paint apps/tampo on the face being misaligned. The other one is aligned properly, and that head looks good! This shows that there is nothing wrong with the underlying sculpt, and really drives home how the quality of paint apps can make or break a figure. One of my Skeletor heads also has a slight tilt to the paint apps, making him look slightly cockeyed. Thankfully, the black apps on the teeth are aligned well on all of the Skeletor heads, correcting a pervasive problem that afflicted the standard Skeletor figure. The green on the fringe of Skeletor's skull has a nice gradient fade into the yellow, as opposed to the abrupt cutoff on the standard figure. The chest emblems for all these figures are applied perfectly, including the paint on the dented portions. While I don't expect uniform perfection on a cheap mass-produced toy, I would like to see more consistency than this line is currently managing, particularly with the relatively few paint apps these figures require. This is all the more crucial since so many of us are forced to order these online, sight unseen, because the retail supply chain is doing such a poor job getting the product on store shelves.

These figures have a lot to live up to, and they pretty much manage it. There are a few things I personally would have liked to see done a bit differently, and the inconsistent paint apps are a shame, but these are just so damn fun that it really just feels like nitpicking. If you're lucky enough to come across these figures in a store, be sure to take a moment to look at the faces and pick out the best one. Apart from that, buy these with confidence, as they are standout releases in a line that I am thoroughly loving. Watching my little niece's delight in playing with the battle armor feature shows that these have recaptured the fun of the originals, and the bonus parts are a serious draw for adult collectors who enjoy having as many display options as possible. These are a rock solid value for the price, whether you're a longtime fan in whose hear they occupy a special place, or someone new to the brand who's just checking 'em out to see what all the fuss is about. As for where to buy, if you're not among the lucky ones whose local Target has been stocking them, BBTS still has them available as a pre-order. That's it for today, but be sure to battle your way back here next week for more! Until then, happy hunting, and stay safe out there!