Masters of the Universe:
Masters of the Universe (MOTU) was one of the most successful and influential toy lines in history, and Mattel has gone back to the well to try and rekindle the success of the original. Mattel hired the Four Horsemen (who are well-known in the toy industry and to fans for their work at McFarlane Toys) to re-design the venerable Masters of the Universe line. They were not brought in to 'McFarlanize' MOTU, but to get it back to the roots and update it for the 21st century. The figures have been ready for some time after years of development, but the release was delayed to coincide with the new animated series on the Cartoon Network that premieres on August 16th, 2002 with a 26 episode commitment.
You may have to wait for the show, but the toys are here now. If it sounds a little Zen, perhaps there is wisdom here, because the new line of MOTU is both fresh and new, while being true and faithful to the old. This is due to the work of the Four Horsemen on the figures, and we'd be remiss if we didn't credit them for their work. All four of the team work on all their figures, from design through final prototype construction, and the RTM PRO-File for them elucidates much more about how they work. Chris Dahlberg and Eric Treadaway are the main figural sculptors while Eric Mayse (Cornboy) and Jim Preziosi work on much of the fabrication (mechanisms, articulation and accessories). The two Erics were generally more involved with Skeletor and Mer-Man, while Chris and Jim were more involved with Beast Man, though this is just in a general sense.
Heroes are popular and important role models, but their adversaries define them. What they must overcome is what makes them heroic, and the same follows for He-Man. As is the case with most villains, they have cool costumes and cooler names than the protagonists! Sure, He-Man is easy to understand, but Skeletor just sounds so much cooler, and definitely scarier! (Read the RTM Spotlight on the first Heroic Warriors assortment.)
The first assortment of villains for MOTU has headman Skeletor, the ocean fiend Mer-Man and Skeletor's hairy henchman Beastman, along with Skeletor's trusty mount Panthor and a deluxe version of the bone daddy himself. Initial assortments of this wave will be heavily stacked towards Skeletor, but over time they should even out as more cases are shipped.
The design of the figures is geared towards play, and the target audience is clearly children. These are toys, first and foremost. They all have action features built in (which was pioneered by the original MOTU line) and have sturdy construction. The figures can be used with the Castle Greyskull playset that has recognition technology built in, and in their feet are electronic identifiers for that playset. None of the bad guys wear shoes, which may mean Skeletor has a great medical plan for podiatrists. It also means they are very susceptible to athlete's foot (or for Beastman, henchman's foot), so if they aren't in every episode of the new show you'll know why.
Click on a picture below to see more pictures of that action figure.
Skeletor is the baddest of the bad in Eternia, and while he isn't the sole master of the universe, it isn't from lack of trying. There are two things he doesn't like, osteoporosis and He-Man, not necessarily in that order. He continually schemes to defeat He-Man and while he has yet to succeed, drinking a healthy amount of milk is very important to him. Remember kids, drinking milk isn't evil just because Skeletor does it! Milk doesn't hurt people, just evil guys who have skull-like faces and drink milk do.
Besides drinking milk, Skeletor works out constantly to maintain his physique. Like all the Masters of the Universe he has muscles galore, and an accoutrement of weapons to aid his diabolical schemes. He has a battle staff with a ram's head atop it (anyone want to guess his sign?) and a double bladed battle sword. The sword has two handles and comes apart so he can switch from one big sword to two smaller ones, but no less dangerous. Each half of the sword has a yin-yang character to it, and one seems to be good while the other bends towards evil, though together they strike a balance (and with luck, He-Man). He has a strap on his back to carry the sword, and his left arm has a smash up action feature, which means his arm swings when you press a button on his back. Just don't pull his finger! All the armor and removable chest armor are sculpted to complement the figure's design, with a motif that fits Skeletor's nature.
Articulation on Skeletor isn't as extensive as early prototypes due to concerns over the figure not standing up to rigorous play, so Mattel decided to scale back on some of the joints. Ball joints for both shoulders and thighs are in place, and the ball joints for the legs help Skeletor ride his trusty mount Panthor. The wrists twist as do the neck and waist, though the waist does not have true 360 degree motion. Looks like more time will need to be spent with that new yoga teacher!
Mer-Man is an ocean warlord, and you can think of him as a Sea Monkey that got way too big and went as bad as he could go. As one of Skeletor's lieutenants, Mer-man is involved with most the schemes against He-Man, especially when they are near the coast. Rumor has it he's been stalking Teela in hopes of catching her skinny-dipping, and he prefers the kiddie pool because it's always 'warmer'. Another little known fact is that his sword can be used as an emergency food supply. Mmmm, delicious corn sword...
Mer-Man's sculpting is largely influenced by the old MOTU card art. On the back there was a picture of Mer-man, but the figure didn't look like the picture on the back. A young Eric Treadaway really wanted that figure on the back, so he dedicated his entire life to making that figure that he saw (and reportedly stills speaks with) on the back of the figure. His quest has yielded fruit, and now Mer-Man exists as he once should have, and now Eric can retire with the satisfaction of a job well done, mission accomplished. Eric isn't retiring though, because he has plenty more ideas and the little Mer-Man voice in his head hasn't said it was okay. It also hasn't reminded him that his dinner is ready, but you win some and lose some.
Along with the vintage era sculpting look, Mer-Man packs some weapons - a trident and a sword. He has removable chest armor for times when speed is more important than protection, and the weapons and armor all have the same scale patterning on them that resembles corn kernels. He can stow the sword on his back when he isn't plowing into enemies, or store it in its sheath, and he has a built-in action feature that lets him either thrust his sword or jab his trident.
Mer-Man's articulation nearly mirrors that of Skeletor's, with ball jointed thighs, one ball jointed shoulder, one swivel shoulder, twisting wrists, waist and neck. Mer-Man's left shoulder is a swivel joint, and his elbow is articulated, but won't hold a pose due to the action feature. His waist doesn't go all the way around either, but the ball jointed thighs can let Mer-man ride on Panthor. Panthor doesn't allow it though, because Mer-man smells like ocean whitefish, and Panthor has quite a taste for it.
Every master villain has a henchman who stands above the rest, someone who is both a coward and can overcome their cowardice due to fear of the master villain. Someone who is a constant whipping boy. Beast Man is that whipping boy, and Skeletor rides him constantly. Skeletor's dirty little secret is that he is insanely jealous of Beast Man, and so he constantly humiliates him. It all goes back to childhood, when a young Beastie Boy was accidentally dunked into an industrial strength vat of Rogaine and Skeletor fell into the barrel of Nair. The rest is history!
Beast Man is a pretty simple guy - he's big, very strong, and hairy, and not so subtle. Since he's pretty simple, he has a pretty simple weapon - a whip. Before you think the whip is the weapon of lesser men, don't forget Indiana Jones! The whip is all he has (or needs) and to go along with it he has a whip action associated with him. Basically, both his arms raise and lower for a double smash action to go with any whipping. He also has removable chest armor so he can impress the ladies that prefer a man with a hairy chest.
Beast Man has the standard MOTU articulation - ball jointed shoulders and thighs, twisting wrists, waist and neck. His waist is the same as Skeletor and Mer-Man, only much bigger. He can also ride on Panthor, but their fur gets all tangled up and they end up spending hours trying to get apart, not to mention the static cling!
Panthor is a beast of burden, and that burden is Skeletor. For those studying for SAT's (or trying desperately to erase that memory), Panthor is to Battle Cat as Skeletor is to He-Man as Bill Clinton is to fidelity - they just don't go together. Panthor is a large hairy animal that does Skeletor's bidding. What makes him different from Beast Man is that Panthor doesn't have 'man' in the name, and he is purple. Otherwise, there are some striking similarities! Panthor's role as Skeletor's steed started as just a summer job while waiting for Exxon to call back about his audition for the 'tiger in your tank' ads. If the public liked purple better, who knows where he'd be today.
Panthor was originally going to be molded in purple plastic, and he was sculpted to show off detail without any flocking. The package art also depicts him as being unflocked, but the production piece is covered with purple fuzz sans the bottoms of the feet and inside the mouth. He has a removable harness (though the box clearly states on the back that it is not removable) that has two weapons mounted on it - both spring loaded missile launchers. One has a single missile while the other has a battery of five missiles that are joined together. He also has 'jaw smashin', claw slashin' action built in via a lever in the back. When this is pressed the front paw raises to slash while the mouth opens to smash and bite.
Panthor is an inch shy of a foot long and is still five inches tall to the riding area on the saddle. All four legs are articulated to twist, though the right front paw is geared to the jaw, so when you move it the mouth opens. The tail can twist but it isn't bendy and has no other articulation. All of the figures can fit on Panthor, though it takes a little work to get them properly balanced on his back. All the paws have claws attached for slashing out at anyone who gets close. Panthor has been known to sing 'Stray Cat Strut' when no one is looking.
Since Skeletor is the primary villain and since he really gets around there are two versions of him available so far - the regular Skeletor and the battle sound version. Eternia may have a mix of magic and technology, but it also has air that conducts sounds, especially those from battle. So we have battle sound Skeletor, and it isn't just a clever name. Now neon jungle camo street fighter Skeletor, that's a clever name!
Battle Sound Skeletor is very close to the regular version with the same accessories and arms and legs. The chest plate is totally redesigned to have a metallic red skull for a chest plate and a larger body to accommodate the electronics for the sounds he makes. The chest armor isn't removable (or more accurately, you can remove it but probably won't be able to replace it). On the side is a button that will activate his voice clip. He only has one voice clip that says 'Eternia will be mine!' and then there is the sound of a sword slashing in battle. The other sound is the same sword sound, but it's activated when the figure's waist is twisted and then released. The waist is spring loaded so he will swing back to center and the sword sound will play. The head sculpt is the same, but the hood is now decorated with spikes and Skeletor makes a fair rendition of the Statue of Liberty. The articulation is the same as the regular version of Skeletor, but without the action feature in the right arm. The larger body does slightly limit motion on the shoulder ball joints.
Included with the figure is a video tape of an episode of the original series, and for Skeletor the episode is The Problem With Power. The basic story is that Skeletor, ever the deceiver, has tricked He-Man into thinking he has killed an innocent man. Being very responsible, He-Man decides to get rid of his power sword before he can hurt anyone else by hurling it into an bottomless abyss. Once his power is gone, Skeletor brings an Goblin Army to invade Eternia. Can He-Man stop him? You'll have to watch the episode to find out!
Pictures of Skeletor
Pictures of Mer-Man
Pictures of Beast Man
Pictures of Panthor
Pictures of Battle Sounds Skeletor
|Where to buy Masters of the Universe: The regular Masters of the Universe action figures retail in the $9.99 USD price range, with the deluxe battle sounds figures retailing in the $12.99 price range and Panthor retailing for a bit more. All are available at major retailers such as Toys'R'Us (and through their Amazon.com presence), Target, Wal-Mart, and KB Toys, at specialty stores such as Tower Records and comic book stores, as well as various online toy retailers.
Several such online stores are RTM sponsors AisleSniper.com, Big Bad Toy Store, NHAtoys.com and The Outer Reaches. (Be sure to check the other RTM sponsors, listed on the Shop Center.)