A little background: after twenty years, Mattel Toys has decided to bring back their He-Man and the Masters of the Universe line. Despite being headlined by a hero with the cheesiest name of all time, the toys were one of the most popular lines of the '80s.
Part of the success of the original line was due to Mattel's ultra-cheapo production values. As anyone who owned the original figures can attest to, each figure was made from a limited number of torso, arm, and leg sculpts. With a few clever color changes, some accessories and a new head, kids had a "new" action figure. But this wasn't the only way Mattel built equity; it also reused molds from older lines, such as their 1970s "Big Jim" line, to make toys for MotU.
This time around, Mattel has opted to skip the cheapo methods. They hired four former sculptors from McFarlane Toys, home of some of the finest toy sculptors in America. Dubbing themselves "The Four Horsemen," these sculptors set about redefining He-Man for a new age of action figure standards. The new figures are stunning, especially when compared to the cookie-cutter work of the originals.
Mattel has pulled out all the stops for the new MotU; in addition to the toys, there's also a cartoon series as well as a comicbook.
This review focuses on Skeletor, the main villain of the Masters of the Universe show. As a kid, Skeletor was always one of my favorite figures...I think it was mostly due to the colors. Blue skin with purple armor... in artistic terms, it was a very "cool, calming" design, which I'll admit is rather in conflict with Skeletor's generally treacherous behavior.
The packaging is fairly simple: blister bubble on a cardboard backing. The graphics evoke the design of the original packaging, but I do wish there were drawings of the figures on the back, rather than photos. The bottom third of the figure is blocked by a plastic insert, making this slightly less collector-friendly than it might be.
Of all the figures in the new line, Skeletor has perhaps the best sculpt. It's simply fantastic. The detail, especially for the 6" size, is astounding; each little piece of armor has intricate designs all over it. Skeletor's face is particularly devilish, an excellent representation of a skull - exactly what one would expect from former sculptors of the Spawn line of toys. Honestly, I can't emphasize enough how much I like the sculpt.
The articulation is good, too. Skeletor has ball-jointed shoulder, ball-jointed hips (but the hip joints are small and well-hidden), peg-jointed wrists, and turns at the head and waist. For a kid's line, this is an adequate amount of articulation, and it scarcely interferes with the sculpt.
His armor, loosely based on the original design, looks even more Romanesque than before; but more importantly, the armor is not a solid color. As you can see from the picture, the epaulets are black and the crossed-bones on the chest are silver. He also wears a fashionable Roman-like skirt and sports both gauntlets and greaves. Like all the villains in this line, however, he's barefoot - apparently bad guys have tough soles. The chest armor, by the way, is removable, just as it was with the original figures.
The accessories are great too. Skeletor comes with his trademark "Havoc Staff," a wizard's staff topped by a ram's skull. The original Havoc Staff was made from solid purple plastic and was prone to bending. The new one is straight, hard (get away, Freud!), and the ram's skull is actually painted this time. Skeletor also comes with a double-bladed sword that splits into two swords (there's a trick to fitting the combined sword into his hand - take them apart, slide one handle into his hand, then snap them back together again). The right hand is sculpted to hold the sword, while the left hand is sculpted in such a way as to realistically grip the staff. A nice little touch.
Skeletor also has a big button on his back. When you press the button, his right arm jerks upward. For kids, I'm sure this will be a fine feature. For collectors it may be a bit disappointing, because it hurts the sculpt.
But I try to walk a line between the collectors and kids in my reviews. The Horsemen have walked this line before me, however, and I think they've done an excellent job. These figures are incredibly detailed representations of beloved characters from the '80s show - that's for the collectors. They're also great toys for kids, and I highly recommend these toys for any parents out there. The Four Horsemen are "toymakers" in the traditional sense, and they have lavished a loving attention on these toys that is rarely seen in this day of marketing mania. Sure, there will be a cartoon and a comic book, but first there are the toys, and it is these that inspired my youthful imagination.
Agree with this review? Disagree? Discuss it over at The Loafing Lounge.