In 1985, Mattel held the "Create-a-Character" contest, inviting kids to design their very own Masters of the Universe character. The winner was Fearless Photog, created by Nathan Bitner. For whatever reason, Fearless Photog was never produced back then; it would be another 27 years before a Fearless Photog figure would become a reality. By comparison, it took less then 12 months for the winner of the second Create-a-Character contest, Castle Grayskullman by Daniel Benedict, to become a reality.
During the Second Ultimate Battleground, Hordak and King Hssss' grand army pressed in against the allied heroes
of Eternia. In the darkest moment of battle, all hope seemed lost as many heroes fell, including Snake Man-At-Arms and Stratos. Reaching out through the Orb of Power, hidden deep inside Castle Grayskull, He-Man and the new Sorceress used an unrepeatable spell to call upon the Powers of Grayskull and infuse life into the very spirit of the castle itself. Rising from the castle's hidden Chamber of Defense; Castle Grayskullman marched into battle, swinging his dual swords of power, helping to turn the tide.
It's interesting to think about the very different circumstances around both contests. It seems likely that most of the entries for the 1985 contest were submitted by children. While I'm sure there were a few children who submitted entries this time around, it's probably fair to say that most of the entries Mattel received this time around were from the same generation that submitted them so many years ago (and one has to imagine that someone out there actually
entered both of them) - that is to say, adults.
Nonetheless, the genius of Castle Grayskullman is that he easily fits both eras. The design is both high concept and elegant in its simplicity - an anthropomorphic embodiment of the toyline's iconic playset, Castle Grayskull. You can easily envision this figure as part of the vintage line, yet the design is also the perfect homage to the line's pearl anniversary.
The design did a great job of incorporating aspects of the actual Castle Grayskull design, such as the "crown" on top of the skull from the playset serving as a kind of "headband" to the figure. The hair is kind of creepy, making it look like a corpse or a D&D lich (or the Star Trek Salt Vampire).
We asked Benedict about it and he said, "I added the hair because it looked too boring without it. I think it adds character, and a little '80s to it." It certainly does that, since between the "headband" and the hair, the character makes him look like Hulk Hogan. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing!)
Once Mattel picked this design, it was up to the Four Horsemen to sculpt it. Castle Grayskullman has a brand-new head, new forearms and hands, new boots, and a new plastic armor piece over the chest. It all looks great, especially the skull symbol on the chest, which was inspired by the symbol on the vintage Castle Grayskull door.
The final product is not perfect. Due to the cost-saving measures on this line, CGM has the smooth arms and legs of a standard MOTUC figure, which jars with the fantastic stone texture everywhere else. You can imagine the arms and legs were just sculpted smooth,
like marble, but since the rest of the figure seems to have been made from granite it just doesn't quite look right.
The paintwork mimics the mossy gray-green color of Castle Grayskull and looks great. It's always been an appealing color. However, it should be noted that the "smooth" bodyparts don't quite seem to match the color on the shoulders and forearms - I'm not exactly sure why that is. The white paint on the "tusks" is sloppy, and kind of bizarre - why paint those at all? He's a living statue. He doesn't have real teeth. The best paintwork is reserved for the skull symbol, which looks like it's been carved from marble, right down to the rough texture.
Castle Grayskullman has the standard MOTUC articulation, except that the "rocker" ankles are nonexistent. This seems to be the first point of articulation Mattel takes away as a cost-saving measure. While earlier figures do have rocker ankles and this line has a lot of re-use, that was also true of DC Universe Classics and Mattel still somehow removed that point of articulation. Just something to watch out for. [Update: CGM does have rocker ankles. Mine are rock-solid, but given Mattel's inconsistent quality control, perhaps the figure does have them.]
Also, the leg articulation feels very restricted because the plastic used for the loincloth is very firm, and not pliable at all. Oddly enough, this was the most disappointing aspect of this figure. It severely limits the posing options.
CGM comes with two swords and a shield. The swords are based on the design from the small flag that was included in the vintage
playset. Many of us who grew up on He-Man always wondered about those swords and what they were supposed to represent, though the most obvious interpretation is they were meant to be the good/evil Power Swords that came with the vintage He-Man and Skeletor. In any event, they have excellent sculpts and great paintwork (although I don't know why the blue blade gets a metallic sheen and the purple blade doesn't).
Despite a few negatives - the smooth limbs and somewhat limited articulation - Castle Grayskullman is still a fantastic MOTUC figure. He's very well-designed, excellently sculpted, and comes with a load of fantastic accessories. In some ways, after He-Man and Skeletor he could arguably be the one figure you have to have in your collection - he's representative of so much of this franchise as a whole: Castle Grayskull, He-Man himself (the hair), and the franchise's amazing ability to take a ridiculous concept and somehow make it work.