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Masters of the Universe Classics
He-man, Beast Man and Skeletor

Masters of the Universe Classics He-man action figure by Mattel

I'm not a big Masters of the Universe fan. The figures arrived during my college years and the cartoon shortly after, the period in my life I was least likely to watch an animated television show or buy an action figure. In fact, I think my entire television watching experience during those days was Saturday Night Live and David Letterman, and while I was actively on the hunt for 'action', it had nothing to do with anyone calling themselves He-man. Except that one time, and I was just experimenting.

There's no denying however that the cartoon had a tremendous appeal to kids of the period. It also became extremely controversial, sparking the debate amongst parent groups over whether a cartoon could or should be a direct vehicle for advertising product to kids.

With such a successful line of in house developed action figures, it's no surprise that Mattel brought them back in 2002. With a new cartoon, and updated more 'mature' looks for the characters designed by the Four Horsemen, Mattel was braced for another big hit.

It didn't come. Kid's didn't connect with the new cartoon or the figures, and the line only lasted a couple years. The line did do fairly well with collectors though, even being extended by NECA through the release of 'inaction' statues that allowed them to produce additional Four Horsemen sculpted characters to fit in with the Mattel figures.
Masters of the Universe Classics He-man action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics He-man action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics Beast Man action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics Skeletor action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics He-man action figure by MattelMasters of the Universe Classics Beast man action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics Skeletor action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics He-man action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics Beast Man action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics Skeletor action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics He-man action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics He-man action figure by Mattel

And so Mattel has once again gone back to MOtU, but this time they're trying a different approach. Since the collector aspect of the 2002 release seemed to have potential, they are going with a purely collector focused line called Masters of the Universe Classics, and selling it direct through their site MattyCollector. These figures are new designs, but are just updates to the original figures, adding a little more detail to the sculpt, updating the level of articulation a bit, but keeping the 80's feel as much as possible.

The started the line off with an exclusive of King GreySkull, He-man's ancestor, at last years SDCC. I picked one up for a friend, but skipped it for myself. However, now that they've started releasing the individual figures at Matty Collector, I thought it was worth doing a review of the first three. He-man and Beast Man were released in 2008, and now Skeletor has been released as well. The plan for 2009 is to release a new figure each month on the 15th (Skeletor came out just last week), and they already have the figures announced for the first four months.

Packaging - ***1/2
I really like the style of packaging here. There's a nice retro 80's feel to it without being campy or silly, and in Poe Ghostal's review he mentioned that the graphics and design look quite a bit like the old boxes for the vehicles and play sets, which is a nice change up. 

There's bio cards on the back of each package for the characters, and long time fans will quickly notice that Mattel is doing what it can to smoosh together the various incarnations of the license over the years into a more united continuity.

The packages are small and compact, yet show off the figures well. That means less waste, and it's always a good idea to put less in the land fills. God knows, Mattel filled up enough with Speed Racer toys this last year.

Sculpting - He-Man, Beast Man ***1/2; Skeletor ***
When I first heard about this relaunch, I was very skeptical. It sounded to me like they were taking the classic figures, making some minor tweaks, and re-issuing them. And let's face it, re-issuing vintage figures does not work out well, particularly when the vintage figures themselves can still be had at reasonable prices.

But once I had these in hand, I realized how wrong I'd been. There aren't just minor tweaks here - these are really the MOTU figures every kid would have loved to have in the 80's, if the level of overall action figure quality had been what it is today.

The designs themselves are very retro, and based on the original look of the characters. But there's far more detailing, texturing and lots of Eternian-realism.

This is most obvious on Beast Man, where the furry aspects of his nature are nicely detailed. He also has a fantastic head sculpt, rivaling the work of companies like NECA and McFarlane. Of course, with the Four Horsemen providing the sculpts and designs, that should be no huge surprise.

They are remaining true to some of the basic tenants of mass market toys (although these are specialty market, collector aimed releases), such as reusable parts and pieces. These torsos, arms and legs are going to show up plenty of times through the series, which is why it's nice that they got the basic appearance down well the first time.

There's also some toy-like attributes that are part of the manufacturing process, like mold lines, flashing and rough edges on some of the parts. These aren't a major negative for me here, because they actually make them feel more like 'toys' and less like 'collectibles', something I think keeps some of that nostalgic feel to the line, but your mileage may vary.

These are designed to fit in with 7" scale figures, giving them a nice heft and size. He-Man is the tallest of the three so far, because his head sticks up a smidge more than Skeletor. Both of them are right about at that 7" mark, while Beast Man is the shortest, coming in about a quarter of an inch shorter.

Paint - ***1/2
All three of these have high quality paint ops, certainly well above the average work we see in a mass market toy, and even above the normal specialty market work right now.

Of course, some have more operations than others, with Beast Man getting the lion's share of the paint detailing. Lots of the various body parts are merely cast in the proper color plastic (another of those mass market tenants they are sticking with here), but he has some nicely done small details, especially in his face. In fact, I almost went the extra half star with him, but there was a little too much slop around the medallion to pull it off. 

While He-man and Skeletor don't have quite the same level of detailed operations, what they do have is clean and neat. There's some minor variation in He-man's skin tone, but it's really only noticeable once you know to look for it.

Articulation - ***1/2
These aren't *quite* Marvel Legends level articulation, but they are close. In fact, I think these might have just the right amount, without going overboard.

I do wish the ball jointed neck worked a little better. It does allow for some tilting, but it's slightly limited as compared to other ball jointed necks out there.

The ball jointed shoulders are jointed on both sides of the ball, and have an excellent range of movement. Sure, Beast Man's armor hinders that a little, but that's to be expected.

The arms also have pin elbows and cut wrists, which allow for quite a few arm poses. The arms can hang relaxed, or they can take on a variety of arm swinging, face punching positions.

The torso has a cut waist, as well as a ab-crunch joint. Both of these work well, allowing for a decent range of movement and add a little more life to just about any stance.

The legs sport ball jointed hips, pin knees, and pin ankles on all the figures. He-man adds in a cut joint at the top of his boot. The leg articulation allows for deep and wide stances, as well as fairly natural relaxed poses. Some additionally lateral movement in the ankles would have been nice, but that's a minor nit.

Accessories - He-man, Skeletor ***; Beast Man **1/2
This is the one category where Beast Man gets stiffed, compared to the other two releases so far.

He comes with a whip, designed much like his original. I'm told that his whip was originally recycled from the Big Jim line, and this new version has a handle very similar. At least it fits well in his hand, and he won't drop it easily.

He-man comes with two of his critical weapons, his sword and ax. There's also a nicely designed shield which pops on his forearm to protect him from Skeletor's attacks. The one area where the paint ops could be better is on the accessories, where there's not much in the way of detail.  For example, He-man's sword really needed a painted hilt.

He-man also has his half of a sword. The second half comes with Skeletor, and you can pop the two pieces together to form a complete weapon. I believe this has something to do with later incarnations of the show, and is part of Mattel's attempt to tie the various cartoon story lines together through this new series of figures. In any event, the two halves don't snap together particularly well, and the sword looks pretty silly once they do. These two halves are going to end up tossed in the extras box.

Skeletor has his regular sword as well, with a nice two tone finish. Finally, he has his Havoc staff, with nifty dead animal skull on top. This skull can turn on the staff, adding another minor point of articulation.

While I love the sculpt on the staff, I do wish there were more paint ops here as well. The two tone finish doesn't pop as well on the staff as it does on the sword, and additional paint detailing on the skull would have really added a lot to its appearance.

Fun Factor - ****
The beauty of this line is that these are TOYS. Mattel has managed to take everything that was great about the original MOTU line, combine it with what makes action figures so much better today, and produce a line that has a nostalgic feel, and yet plays like a 2009 toy. When the 2009 Poppies come rolling around 11 months from now, I'm positive that the MOTUC line is going to be a contender for a number of categories.

Value - **
Perhaps the biggest issue for these figures is the price point. You'll be trading a Jackson for every one of these figures, and I don't think the founder of the Democratic party would consider it even.

Of course, part of this cost is created by aiming these squarely at collectors, with a low production run and limited availability. Part of it is simply because of the make up of Mattel itself - while you'd think the lack of a license cost would make them cheaper, Mattel's sheer size requires that all products have a larger margin than would be the case with a smaller company. And finally, action figures across the board are getting more and more expensive right now, with mass market stuff going for $10 - $15 regularly. Even so, these are pushing the envelope at $20 each.

BTW, if you ordered your Skeletor when it first hit the site and still haven't received it, don't get too nervous yet. When I ordered He-Man and Beast Man, they were at most house within two days. With Skeletor, it took 10 days from the time Matty Collector said they'd shipped it to showing up on my doorstep.

Things To Watch Out For
Not a thing. These are as sturdy as any action figure designed for kids, and if you are an adult fan of the show looking to bring your own children into the fold, then these (along with the cartoons) are the way to do it.

Overall - He-man, Skeletor ***1/2; Beast Man ***
I have no interest in the Masters of the Universe cartoon, and yet I'm loving this line so far. These are some really fun toys, and I can see where the fans of the old show, who grew up playing with the originals, will take to these like flies to...well, you know what I mean. I've been sucked in, and I'll be sitting at the computer on the 15th of every month, waiting for that page to refresh.

There's been lots of debate over this line, but I really like a number of aspects of how Mattel is handling it. First, they are providing access to the figures direct from their site at MattyCollector.com. Anyone that wants to get them can get them, as long as they don't delay for weeks.

I also like that they are pushing them out once a month, on a set schedule. While that $20 a pop isn't cheap, it seems a lot easier to take when it's only $20 a month. Instead of being hit with a wave of 5 or 6 figures that would cost $100 or more, a collector can budget out his spend over the year. And yet they also end up with a full 12 figures, giving them a solid display in a relatively short period of time.

And finally, I like the concept of 'retiring' each figure when the next one hits. Actually, I suspect they won't get that far with some of the releases, and the scuttle butt on the street right now is that Skeletor is *almost* sold out already. But Mattel has always struggled with their determined belief that they HAVE to make something 'limited' in an action figure line to make it interesting for collectors, and this approach is certainly less repugnant than the handling of the DCUC figures. Yea, at some point you'll have to scramble and head to ebay if you came in late on a figure. But considering that everyone has weeks to buy each of these before that's the case, I think it's a relatively innocuous version of a limited edition.

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***1/2
Sculpting - He-Man, Beast Man ***1/2; Skeletor ***
Paint - ***1/2
Articulation - ***1/2
Accessories - He-man, Skeletor ***; Beast Man **1/2
Fun Factor - ****
Value - **
Overall - He-man ***1/2; Skeletor, Beast Man ***

Where to Buy -
Skeletor is available right now through MattyCollector, Mattel's collector website. When the Skeletor figure went up for sale, Mattel pulled the other two off the site, so right now ebay is your best bet unfortunately. If you're really interested in Skeletor, I'd pick him up before February 15th, when the next figure (Stratos) goes on sale. In fact, rumor has it that he's almost sold out already, so don't dilly dally.

For those traveling to SDCC later this year, Mattel has said that they've held back a few of the He-Man, Beast Man and Skeletor figures to sell at the show as well.

They are also looking at a subscription deal for the remaining figures this year. Early plans appear to give you the choice of signing up and getting each figure mailed to you automatically each month, or wait until December 15h and having them all shipped at once to save on costs. Stay tuned to Matty Collector for further details, or to their facebook page.

Related Links -
I have a number of guest reviews of earlier MOTU products:

- I have guest reviews of Stactions series 5, series 2, and series 1

- from the 2002 line, I have a guest review of a bunch of the MOTU vs the Snakemen, as well as one of the very first wave of the series.

- and if you're really into all things MOTU, you should check out Roger Sweet's book, Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea. It's a fascinating look at the inner workings of the early development of the line.

Discussion:
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Reader Ratings!
Here's your chance to weigh in!  Select your rating for this figure(s) to the right.  Yea, it's a five star system and not a four star system like mine, but it's the best I've been able to come up with so far.  You can only rate once from any particular IP.  My score converted to a five star system for comparison: 3.96

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Masters of the Universe Classics Beast Man action figure by Mattel
Masters of the Universe Classics He-man action figure by Mattel



Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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