Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Top 25 Masters of the Universe Classics Figures from the Mattel Era - Part 1

It's been a very toy-y month on AFB hasn't it? 


Mattycollector is done, the Mattel era of Masters of the Universe Classics is over, approximately 2901 figures, vehicles, beasts and playsets plus four weapons paks and a bunch of stands. So naturally a countdown is needed. Actually what got me going was this thread over at heman.org and more so how different everyone’s answers were, I suppose that’s quite fitting for a such a supposedly unpleasable fanbase as Masters of the Universe is thought to have (and kinda does have) but I get bored with countdowns on subjects where everyone seems to pick the same bloody things, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is not a surprise anymore. I started to do my top 10 for the thread but soon realised that a) a top 10 didn’t do the line or my thoughts on the line justice and b) this was going to be way too long for a forum post, if only I had a blog to post crap like this on…oh wait, I do.

Quick primer then: Masters of the Universe Classics was an online-only collectors’ action figure line published by Mattel from 2008 to 2016, the figures were released monthly through Mattycollector.com and from 2010 onwards buyers could subscribe, ensuring them the 12 regular figures, a figure only available if you subscribed and a number of extra items, usually around four to six. Items were also released ‘exclusively’ for San Diego Comic Con International (though nearly all of them were sold online afterwards) and from 2013 an all-purpose ‘travelling con’ item (sold at various conventions and then online) and a ‘chase figure’ (sold at random, unadvertised times throughout the year). In 2012 a second monthly figure was added for half the year and sold as part of a ‘mini-sub’. In 2016 the line was split into two bi-monthly lines Masters of the Universe Classics: Collector’s Choice and He-Man & The Masters of the Universe, the latter providing screen-accurate versions of characters as they appeared in FILMation’s cartoon from the 1980s, though a few items did slip out that year using the basic MOTUC name. Super7 now have the licence and are going to continue putting out product under Masters of the Universe Classics, as they’ve adjusted their international postage and are putting out Fang-Or, Quakke and Lodar I’m not as angry with them as I was (though I did still miss out on Ultimate Teela and Ultimate Faker, bollocks). So are you sitting comfortably? Then by the Power of Grayskull, I have the power:

25 Optikk
Masters of the Universe Classics, May 2010, Club Eternia
Who? Pilot for the Space Mutants, from the New Adventures of He-Man Cartoon and its corresponding toyline He-Man.
Why? Well mostly because he’s a big bronze robot looking motherfucker with a huge eyeball for a head, it’s really hard to dislike that. But also because he’s just executed so well, a phrase I’ll be overusing for this list I think, he is literally just Roboto wearing a different top but those pieces work so well for Optikk’s original design and the proportions of his new top, weapons and eyeball are just right. Optikk was the first New Adventures (‘NA’) figure in the line and the figure that convinced a lot of people that the line and its sculptors the Four Horsemen could make the least liked part of the He-Man franchise awesome and I can see why; he’s just so damn pleasing to the eye (pun!).


24. Laser Power He-Man
Masters of the Universe Classics, December 20152, Club Eternia
Who? One of the very last two figures to be released in the vintage Masters of the Universe toyline, the original figure is now a rare and expensive collectible.
Why? Spoilers, this the only He-Man on the list, this is mostly because I was never over-enamoured with the original He-Man head sculpt and I wanted to judge the figures as they were when released, not with later additions like the perfect vintage head that came with Oo-Larr; part of it is also because I’m one of those people that always like the supporting cast over the main character.  This He-Man uses a different head sculpt (the original figure didn’t reuse the vintage head either) and I love it, it’s a great fit for the original figure’s card art –a jpg of which is the closest I’ll ever come to owning that toy – and his armour has been given just a little tweak in proportions, just made a little bit more ‘mecha’ while still retaining that feel of future tech from the 1980’s and before, before the anime influence became more prominent. Also he lights up, and lights up good. He’s this far down for two reasons: his arm armour has a habit of falling off and I’m one of those people who always prefer the supporting cast. Incidentally I was going to do a Quick Crappy review of this two pack, and even took pictures for it, but never wrote it, I have no idea why.

23. Crita
Masters of the Universe Classics: Collector’s Choice, July 2016, Collector’s Choice Subscription
Who? A space witch and Skeletor’s unofficial second-in-command in the Space Mutants (don’t tell Flogg) from The New Adventures of He-Man cartoon
Why? The only character in He-Man I like more than Crita is Evil-Lyn (are you noticing a theme?), we had to wait so long for her and…they did her beautifully, they gave her all the new piece she needed, her wand in two different forms, picked my preferred costume and then gave her a huge fuck-off big gun to slay Xenomorphs (or Gleanons, the evil bitch) with. She’s low down for her shawl being glued in, that is literally how hard it was to order this list, I had to resort to using a problem that can be navigated against one of my favourite characters – but hey, that’s better than Buzz-Off who isn’t on the list due to the sheer volume of good figures, poor bee man. 

22. Skeletor
Masters of the Universe Classics, January 2009
Who? Seriously? Ok, ok, a sorcerer, leader of the Evil Warriors and He-Man’s main enemy, in many versions of the franchise he’s He-Man’s uncle, Keldor.
Why? Masters of the Universe Classics was the line that got me back into collector’s figures after a looong hiatus and Skeletor was the figure that got me to ‘pull the trigger’ on starting to buy Masters of the Universe Classics (along with itsalltrue.net’s reviews) so I kind of owe The Lord of Destruction (sorry Buzz-Off). I couldn’t believe they’d made a figure of Skeletor that looked like how my childhood brain saw my Skeletor figure, he’s not actually 100% accurate to the vintage toy but rather based on the card back art from the vintage line – he has streamlined forearm spikes and shin pads which I think look so much more stylish, there’s just this nice swoosh to them3 – but this was Skeletor as I’d always imagined him, with modern sculpt and paint detailed but free of the exaggerated style and redesign of 200X. He’s also the loveliest blue, a blue that really shows off the sculpting of the standard buck pieces and what a lovely style they use, a chunky, Ed McGuinness style that looks so much better than the twisted, mega muscle definition Todd McFarlane pieces that Hasbro and Mattel use for their superheroes. Why’s he so low? Again it’s my predilection for secondary characters really, and while I like Skeletor, I don’t like him quite as much as the other figures, vague but sometimes my mind is like that.

21. Sssqueeze
Masters of the Universe Classics, June 2015, Club Eternia
Who? One of the Snake Men from the vintage Masters of the Universe toyline.
Why? Some vintage figures incorporated little elements from other versions of the character (Buzz-Off and Mosquitor’s spider-legs, Man-E-Faces’ flesh tone), some had little changes or upgrades (like Skeletor up there, or Stinkor’s fur) but some were just straight translations, Sssqueeze is one of those and one of the figures who managed to be 100% an improvement on that vintage figure, while not looking remotely different. A lot of it is proportions, which I realize I’ve mentioned three times now; just making his armour and arms chunkier and better proportioned improves the figure a fuckton, I may be explaining it badly but it’s important ok? And it’s especially important here because just the right proportions stops chest amour from looking like a training bra. Mostly what impresses me about Sssqueeze though is the execution of his arms, bendy like the original figure, though infinitely better for being thicker, capable of independent movement, looking no different from the rest of the figure (you ever notice that? that bendy parts stand out? Snout Spout had this issue in Classics, that and his bendy part tended to rot and wither, Sssqueeze doesn’t have that issue, different bendy material) and holding their shape, they don’t even overbalance him that much, Tuskador’s tusks overbalance him more and he’s got huge feet. Why not in the top 20? Meh, personal preference really and a little bit the lack of 200X head.

20. Tuskador
Masters of the Universe Classics: Collector’s Choice, November 2016, Collector’s Choice Subscription
Who? A trader and the muscle for the Galactic Protectors, the heroes of The New Adventures of He-man and the Toyline it was based on: He-Man
Why? We enter the top 20 with the most recent figure on the list, who I only just got done gushing about in a Quick Crappy Review, I’m still in love with the figure, he’s a superb update of an already cool looking toy just made bigger and given a bunch of additional (thoughtful) options for display - he’s just impressive in every way, the only downside is that they invented a new head design rather than using his cartoon noggin but that head design is so good it’s pretty much makes up for it, unless you’re trying to make a top 20 countdown list, then you use it against him.

19. Granamyr
Masters of the Universe Classics, December 2012
Who? An ancient and powerful dragon from Darksmoke, with a prejudice against humans (and very old tees) but a fondness for He-Man, from the original He-Man & The Masters of the Universe cartoon and the mini-comics that came with the vintage Masters of the Universe toys (where he was green4).
Why? Granamyr represents a bit of a problem because from the dragon down flaws with the figures are very few and I worry that thus from now on this article is going to be very dull, still at least the ‘synonyms’ function on my Microsoft Word will feel loved. Sculpt-wise Granamyr is perfect, he’s a master-class in fantasy beasts from the Four Horsemen, whose real forte lies in the Fantasy genre and especially its creatures, from the texturing and warts on his skin to the dings his helmet there isn’t a single bad thing about his sculpt. What he has going against him are also things that he has going for him; he’s huge and he’s heavy – this means he’s expensive, expensive to ship and eats up a lot of space on the shelf, as such he’s the only figure on this list I don’t personally own and possibly never will, which is sad, but reality often is. Also why am I including him when, as you’ll see, I’m not including beasts like Battlecat or Swift Wing? Because he’s humanoid in shape and thus I (quite racistly) consider him more of a figure than a beast, and felt that I left him off I would have to potentially leave off Gygor and the Shadow Beasts, who I also consider figures more than beasts and I didn’t want to do that.

18. Gygor
Masters of the Universe Classics, September 2010, Club Eternia
Who? A proposed way of reusing a gorilla toy originally used in Mattel’s 1970s lines Tarzan and Big Jim5 the character was ultimately not produced, but photos of a mock-up (by Roger Sweet) remain. Gygor is an evil warlord and the damn dirty ape who killed Vykron.
Why? He’s a big pissed-off gorilla in lemon and lime flavours wielding a huge axe, I can’t believe I live in a world where that isn’t justification enough for thinking some it top 20 material but just in case I do (and I’ve a strong suspicion that’s the case): Some people hated the ‘concept figures’, toys of prototypes and/or earlier designs that never made it to the original figure lines, I am not one of those some people. I actually think it’s a nice thing for the people behind a toyline to do, to give us things we couldn’t have, and I get a genuine little thrill from knowing that I could never have them but now I can, and this doesn’t wear off (for me) because the status never changes – they’ll always be a figure we couldn’t have that now we can. Obviously this thrill is helped if the figure is really well executed (and a lemon & lime flavoured monkey) and Gygor really is, again the Four Horsemen really excel at fantasy beasts and this is a great fantasy gorilla with some spot-on fur detailing and some lovely blending of colours, his armour is soft and pliable without being floppy and his axe is huge and imposing without being unwieldy – really there’s little to nothing wrong with his execution at all and it’s really only personal preference that keeps him below my number 17 pick.

17. Darius
Masters of the Universe: Collector’s Choice, May 2016, Collector’s Choice Subscription
Who? Leader of the Galactic Protectors, being cut from the He-Man toyline (because his action feature was problematic) lead to him not appearing in The New Adventures of He-Man cartoon, though he did appear in the comics that supported it.
Why? Darius has all the positives of Gygor except being a giant ape, and I respect that you may think that fact should mean he should be voted lower and it’s hard to argue that but hear me out: Gygor was never advertised or used in any official material, in fact I don’t think we even knew about him until Roger Sweet’s Mastering the Universe book in 2005 (I could be wrong) Darius however was used in the He-Man comics that were out at the time and that time was when I was a kid, it never dawned on me that he didn’t have a figure, I just assumed I never saw it. basically I have the same attachment to Darius (yes, an NA character, shock) that people have to the likes of Icer and Strongarm, a character from the other media they always wanted a toy of but was out of luck, I just didn’t know that until I was an adult and found out there wasn’t one. So to me this figure existing is slightly more important and while Gygor really has no flaws in his execution, Darius’ importance to me more than makes up for having no paint on his accessors - for this list anyway. For those (presumably imaginary) readers reading this and muttering about He-Ro and Eldor, yes I’m DELIGHTED they both exist but both have issues with their execution6 and given how minute some of my reasons for ordering these figures are, I can’t ignore that just cos I’m really pleased they exist. 

16. Ninja Warrior
Masters of the Universe Classics, February 2015, Club Eternia
Who? A ninja summoned by Skeletor to join his Evil Warriors and assassinate his enemies, he only appeared in the vintage Masters of the Universe toyline and the mini-comics that came as part of it. A copyright problem with (I believe) Skylanders meant Mattel couldn’t release his figure under the character’s actual name: Ninjor.
Why? Yay The Personal Bias as a Driving Force for The Placement on The List Train comes to a halt for a moment (you should see that name on the arrivals board at Liverpool Street mate, takes up half of it and really pisses off the people going to Shenfield) with Ninjor, I’m not calling him Ninja Warrior. Ninjor’s a name I’m seeing a lot on that he-man.org thread and reactions to him at the time were the same: holy shit, they made Ninjor look badass. The Four Horsemen are really good at understanding and bringing out the awesomeness of a character or concept (see: nearly every NA figure), you wouldn’t think that’d be necessary with a demon ninja but by being one of the late-in-the-day ‘other genre’ characters shoved in the vintage line in a desperate attempt to appeal to kids and keep it popular some people had written him off as goofy. I’m not amongst them by the way, I always liked Ninjor, but with what amounts to a cool couple of heads and a detailed upgrade of his tunic everyone else has joined me. I agree, everything about the figure looks badass, his masked headsculpt is full of quiet menace and his 2 dozen accessories make him look like a total force foe be reckoned with, they did a good job here. Kept out of the top 10 for having painted glove lines instead of sculpted ones (why not just use the gloved forearm parts?), it really bugs me when toy companies do that, but it bugs me more when they do it on expensive collectors’ figures, oop the train’s starting up again:

15. Spinerella
Masters of the Universe Classics, December 2014, Club Etheria
Who? A rebel from the other side of Etheria to the Whispering Woods, she was a late edition to the Princess of Power toyline (and corresponding She-Ra: Princess of Power cartoon) and now commands very high prices for her vintage figure.
Why? Oh god I’m going to say ‘well executed’ again, Synonym’s function, help me! *is useless* fuck you! Yeah she’s really well done, she’s so well done in fact that they had to change what subscription she came in and charge more for her, this was to give her painted stripes all the way ‘round and as far as I’m concerned that’s $5 well spend on my part because part of why Spinerella’s ranked so high (and above perfectly executed figures like Gygor or Man-E-Faces) is because I personally find her colour scheme so aesthetically pleasing, the only issue I have with her execution is that he gauntlets don’t ‘naturally’ turn to allow for some spinning poses (though I’m sure you could make them), but that’s made up for by giving her the swappable hair pieces to achieve both her figure and cartoon look. Also I really quite fancy her. I know she’s blatantly gay with Netossa (someone make this cannon please), and not real, but that doesn’t stop her from being attractive, if I were the sort of chauvinist pig who ranked women by attractiveness – which I’m NOT *looks shifty* - I’d say she came in third for me from Princess of Power, just above Shadow Weaver (don’t ask) but below Mermista and Castaspella.

14. Icer
Masters of the Universe Classics, July 2013, Club Filmation
Who? Skeletor’s agent in the frozen north of Eternia, he only appeared in the He-Man & The Maters of the Universe episode ‘The Ice Age Cometh’, where he was the main antagonist
Why? There’s nothing wrong with this figure, he’s pretty much perfect and the biggest ‘surprise hit’ with me from the line, the only reason he’s not higher is because he’s a one-shot villain from a FILMation episode I didn’t remember, and now I do (and have watched it again) am not that impressed with (it’s alright). The figure was so good it made me like it despite not caring about the character but I still don’t care about the character7 all that much (though more than I did before he had a superb action figure). Make sense? Maybe? He even comes with an accessory for poor ol’ Stratos…that poor ol’ Stratos can’t hold, well I said ‘pretty much’ perfect.

13. Vikor
Masters of the Universe Classics, January 2011, Club Eternia
Who? Based on some of Mark Taylor’s8 earliest design work for what became Masters of the Universe, Vikor was an earlier He-Man before Prince Adam, who didn’t use the Power of Grayskull but guarded the castle and the swords within.

Why? I think Vikor is the last figure on this list that I have an issue with execution-wise, which is good, cos I can stop saying ‘execution’ and find a new word to overuse. My issue is very personal and a little odd but I don’t like little metal chains, they make me feel sick, Vikor uses these on his bracers and while they’re not quite the right size or length to really make me feel queasy, they do a little bit and it’s a shame because it’s a little black mark on what is actually a pretty flawless figure. I really like Mark Taylor’s artwork, in fact I like the art of a lot of people who did work for vintage Masters of the Universe including Ted Mayer, Rudy Obrero, Edd Watts and of course the mighty Earl Norem but Taylor’s style is very pleasing to me, I especially like the three ‘Vikor-era’ drawings of Demo-Man, Vikor and Red Beast, there’s a lightness to their lines that I find almost pretty. Why is Vikor here when Demo-Man is not? Meh, just personal preference, I like Vikor’s design better - and he’s not so fucking green he makes my eyes hurt (really, you think Gygor up there is really fucking yellow, Demo-Man is five times as really fucking green).

In part 2: lots more monsters, some cute things, the most manliest of Masters and lots more uses of variations of the term 'execution'

1 Counting pack-ins, both figures in army builder packs (or three figures in the case of the Hover Robots) and Imp Chest
2 as part of the Laster Power He-Man / Laser Light Skeletor 2-pack.
3 the toy-accurate forearms and shins were eventually given to Skeletor with the Dragon Blaster Skeletor figure, who can be made into regular Skeletor just by swapping his armour piece.
4 a green version of Granamyr was released for the 2016 Power-Con, the American He-Man & Thundercats convention, I just prefer him red. 
5 the vintage Battlecat and Panthor use a big cat model used in both these lines, while vintage Screeech and Zoar use a bird used in Big Jim (vintage Beast Man’s whip is also from that line).
6 He-Ro’s half armour makes sense from a cost saving and design standpoint but it is something notable and Eldor’s from a pretty bad timeframe when designer Rueben Martinez really wasn’t giving a fuck, these include his horribly bulky jacket, shit hood and warm chocolate staff plus the decision to make him highly detailed (not Rueben’s) and give him his intended colours rather that the colours of the prototype photograph we’d all got so used to (also not Rueben’s?).
7 this should not imply that I think I’m somehow above having one-off characters from the FILMation cartoon I’m attached to regardless of their overall unimportance. I have those - Kittrina, Darkdream, Shokoti, Evilseed, The Enchantress and Plundor for instance – Icer’s just not one of them. 
8 there has been some controversy over who ‘created’ He-Man; Mark Taylor was the lead designer on Masters of the Universe during its initial development, producing B-sheets for He-Man, Skeletor, Teela, Man-At-Arms, Beast Man, Stratos, Mer-Man, Battlecat and Zodac (from which Mattel’s sculptors’ would make the figures, they changed Skeletor and He-Man a little between these B-Sheets and the final figures) and co-sculpted Castle Grayskull (which he designed) with Ted Mayer. Taylor left to work at Playmates leaving most toys from the second wave onwards to be designed by others including Edd Watts, Ted Mayer, Colin Bailey and Roger Sweet. Sweet is the other person who claims to have ‘created’ He-man, he was in charge of the project that became Masters of the Universe and created three mock-ups but really his only contribution to He-Man is the name and an insistence on the body builder physique - he did design several characters including Webstor and Mekanek but as far as I’m concerned he no more created or designed He-Man than Disney’s wife created Mickey Mouse (oh yeah, fun fact: Disney’s wife named Mickey Mouse, Walt wanted to call him Mortimer).

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