Today's guest review is from Poe Ghostal. A long time
He-man fan, I jumped at his offer to review the new line of redesigned
He-man figures from Mattel. Take it away, Poe!
Before I begin my review, please indulge me in a
Harry Knowles-like preamble. I have been anticipating this line of action
figures for at least a year. It was almost exactly one year ago that I
stopped by the studio of the Four Horsemen design team and got a guided tour
- and laid my eyes on all the He-Man prototypes, as well as dozens of
concept drawings for figures that haven't even been developed yet. For
anyone who hasn't heard of them, the Four Horsemen are four sculptors who
once worked for McFarlane Toys. A few years ago they struck out on their
own, formed the FH, and swiftly approached Mattel about the possibility of
bringing back the Masters of the Universe (MOTU) toyline. This happened to
coincide with Mattel's own thoughts, and soon the FH were turning their
considerable design talents on remaking the beloved '80s toy line.
For the record, the Four Horsemen are a great bunch of
guys. They're as much fanboys as the rest of us, and fervent He-Fans to
boot. They've even posted occasionally in the forums at He-Man.org, and
they're always lurking there, listening to the concerns of the fans. Along
with other companies like Art Asylum and Mezco, the FH represent what I hope
is the future of toy creation, where fan input is taken into consideration
along with corporate necessities.
For me, one could almost argue that I've been
anticipating this line for almost two decades. He-Man and the Masters of the
Universe was for me the start of a lifelong hobby that has nurtured my
imagination, fostered an interest in creative writing, and served as a fun
counterbalance to the mounting responsibilities of life. I can only call
such a wonderful revival of what is, for me, a fondly-remembered property
can only be termed a blessing.
But enough of my blather...on to the review!
Reviewer's note: This review is missing one figure from the main line,
Mer-Man, who is currently shipping in limited quantities due to a
warehouse issue. Rest assured I will own him soon. O yes, he will be mine.
Packaging - **1/2
What can I say...it ain't spectacular, but it's
not bad. The colors are certainly evocative of the original packages, but
I do miss the "drawings" of the toys on the back, rather than
the pictures of them we get here. It would have been great to have the
Horsemen's sketches instead of the pics. The logo on the card, btw, is a
sticker than can be removed and applied to a display, a parent's valuable
leather suitcase, &c.
Sculpting - ****
I don't hand out many four stars, but these figures are amazing.
The original figures had great colors and interesting accessories, but
even as kids we could recognize the fact that they were the same molds
used over and over. Thankfully the Four Horsemen used the original designs
only as a guide and created their own visions of the characters. Each
sculpt is faithful to the original character, yet updates them to today's
standards and is a unique interpretation besides. I'm so stoked, I'll
discuss each individually. Feel free to glance at those gorgeous pics
He-Man is probably the most hotly-debated new sculpt.
The Four Horsemen have gotten rid of the super-steroidal, semi-squatting
figure of our youth and replaced him with a sleeker, more anatomically
believable (but still completely jacked) He-Man. He's got his trademark
furry pants but they are now ornamented with a "sporran," a
Scottish invention that normally endowed a kilt and was used to carry
spare change, gunpowder, and no doubt, sheepskin condoms. He-Man's head
is, unfortunately, a bit plain; this is apparently the result of numerous
kid focus groups. The kids preferred this look, and who are we to argue?
I'm just glad they ditched the pageboy haircut.
Skeletor is definitely my favorite sculpt. Here we
have a Skeletor as envisioned by designers who once worked on Spawn
figures. The facial sculpt, as seen above, is exquisitely detailed;
Skeletor even has fangs now. The Roman-style armor, the ornamented
greaves, even each individual toe has a level of detail that amazes me at
Man-At-Arms is probably the closest to Skeletor in
terms of detail. Fans of the cartoon will be happy to know that we now
have a MAA figure that sports a mustache. He also sports a controversial
new gadget, an arm-mounted gun. The sculpt seems to indicate that Duncan's
left arm and left leg are prosthetic limbs, given all the robotic details;
something I find to be a fascinating concept and a cool little addition to
the He-Man mythos.
Stratos was always a strange figure, what with the
wings and the fur, and the monkey-like face; he was like one of the Wicked
Witch's flying monkeys on steroids...and with a jetpack. The FH have
emphasized Stratos's simian anatomy and added all sorts of rocket-style
gadgets, including two handles so Stratos can control the jetpack. Yet he
remains a monkey with feathers and a jetpack. I must ask the Mother Nature
of Eternia: why? Is Stratos the platypus of Eternia? I suppose only the
Sorceress knows. Or maybe (for diehard He-Fans) Procrustus.
Beast Man is yet another awesome sculpt. One of the
Four Horsemen (I wish I could remember which) spent days (weeks?)
sculpting every little hair on his body. Beast Man has been greatly bulked
up and now sports a massive hunch. Where Stratos is a monkey, Beast Man is
a gorilla (or, perhaps more accurately, given that hair color and those
facial hues, an orangutan). Of all the figures only Beast Man retains the
classic squatting legs -probably
because he's carrying most of his weight on top. Beast Man also looks
pretty pissed. If I were Skeletor, I'd think twice about badgering the new
and improved BM with petty insults.
Paint - ****
For a toy line geared toward kids, the attention
to detail on these paint apps is nothing short of amazing. Witness the
detail on Skeletor's shin greaves, with each little jewel painted gold.
Witness the green-and-yellow wash on Skull-head's hideous visage. Witness
the dark hairs of Man-At-Arms' mustache. Witness the blue under Beast
Man's eyes. Witness! Looking closely, I see very little spilling over the
edges. Great work.
Articulation - ***1/2
While I probably would have enjoyed a bit more
articulation, I find they have more than enough to get them into most of
the poses you might want. I'm sure the decision was made to limit the
articulation so kids could play with them more easily, and I support that.
Okay, so they don't have the articulated ankles, elbows, or
ball-joint torsos that some of us were hoping for. But they do
have ball-jointed shoulders, ball-jointed hips, and cut-joint wrists,
necks, and waists. Some of the figure have individualized articulation;
Stratos, for example, doesn't have ball-jointed shoulders because he needs
to flap his wings. His shoulders only go up and down. But to make up for
this he has elbow articulation, and his "wings" also fold up and
down. Similarly, the yet-to-be-seen Mer-Man has elbow articulation to
facilitate his trident-jabbing ability.
Action Features - ***
The action features are good. He-Man's got his classic
wind-up and punch ability; by twisting his waist and letting go, he whacks
whatever's in sight. Stratos flaps his wings; Man-At-Arms bashes people
with his mace when the button is pressed on his back, and the missile also
fires from his gun. Skeletor waves his sword around and Beast Man waves
his arms (presumably one is supposed to put an enemy in his arms, then
press the button to toss the figure to the ground). While I personally
never liked action features as a kid, I think many kids will love these.
Personally, I don't like action features. The little levers on the back of
these toys, while fairly unobtrusive, interfere with an otherwise superb
sculpt. BUT...these toys are meant for kids as much as (if not more than)
collectors, so I'll review them in that spirit.
Accessories - ***1/2
Truth be told, the accessories are a little hit-and-miss. Man-At-Arms'
gun is a fairly normal missile-firing deal, but man, that mace has taken a
beating since the '80s - it's covered with dents and scores. A nice
detail. Likewise, Skeletor's Havoc Staff is no longer the impotent (and
often limp) solid plastic wand of the past, but a long, straight, and
highly-detailed stick that makes Saruman's rod look like a walking cane.
Stratos only comes with a pair of missiles, and
unfortunately my Stratos was missing one. Perhaps I can write to Mattel
and get a replacement missile. Beast-Man comes with his trademark whip -
which actually looks like a whip this time, rather than half a jump rope.
He-Man comes with a technologically-advanced-looking
axe and a rather simple shield. He also comes with the Power Sword, which
has morphed into a techno-looking geegaw.
Now, permit me digress again. The truth shall be
told: the Four Horsemen didn't originally plan for the sword He-Man comes
with to be the Power Sword. Rather, the twin-bladed sword Skeletor is
carrying was their version of the Power Sword. In the original mythos of
MOTU (way back in the early comics, before the cartoon came along), there
were two Power Swords, an "evil" one and a "good" one.
Skeletor had the evil one and was always trying to get the good one, which
was possessed by - you guessed it - He-Man. For the revamp, the Four
Horsemen envisioned an Eternia where the good guys were on the defensive:
Skeletor had captured both halves of the Power Sword and was slowly
conquering the world. To fight back, Man-At-Arms used his scientific
skills to create a technologically-advanced sword that was then magically
enchanted by the Sorceress. The weapon could trigger Adam's change into
He-Man and aid in the fight against Skeletor. Ultimately, however, I
suspect the Four Horsemen figured He-Man would wrest at least his half of
the "real" Power Sword back from Skeletor.
In any event, Mattel (and the kid focus groups) liked
the "Techno-sword" so much they decided to make it the
"real" Power Sword, leaving Skeletor with an unexplained but
fascinating twin-bladed sword. The detail on this weapon is fantastic -
one side looks like an eagle's wings (the "good" side) while the
other looks like the horns of the Havoc Staff (the "evil" side,
obviously). It can split into two swords (there's a trick to fitting it
into his hand - take them apart, slide one handle into his hand, then snap
them back together again). By comparison, the Techno-sword is just a tad
dull, in my opinion. The hilt rotates, which is apparently part of the
process by which Prince Adam turns into He-Man. He-Man's sword and axe
seem to be made from slightly cheaper plastic than most of the other
weapons - no idea why.
To answer a potential question, yes, the armor comes
off just like in the old days. Even the "hair" over Beast Man's
shoulders comes off. I think only Stratos has non-removable armor. There
has been a bit of controversy over He-Man's armor - it seems the red
"Iron Cross" from the original armor was found a little too
non-politically-correct by Mattel. Several thousand cross He-Man were
produced; but in a running change, the cross was replaced with a rather
odd H-symbol with a bar through it (on the toy, it looks more like an
asterisk). This makes the cross He-Man (seen here) a variant, but he's a
relatively common variant. If you really want a cross He-Man, you
shouldn't have too much trouble locating one for a fairly reasonable price
Overall, however, each figure is complemented by at
least one appropriate, highly-detailed and interesting accessory.
Quality - ***1/2
The quality of a figure's plastic has become a big issue for me in these
days of EasyBreak McFarlane figures and whatnot. Of course, these figures
are designed to be played with by children, so they're fairly solid. No,
they're not as durable as the old figures - you could slam those against a
wall all day and they wouldn't show a dent. I should know; throwing
figures against the wall for hours was an entertaining activity when I was
a three-year-old. Actually I suppose it would be entertaining now, too,
but I have a security deposit on my apartment and I don't want to have to
explain why there's a tiny human arm stuck in the plaster.
But I've digressed yet again - at least these
figures, unlike their predecessors, have actual hip joints, and not a
little rubber band that would weaken after an hour of play, never allowing
the toy to stand on its own two feet ever again.
Some of the weapons, as mentioned above, aren't
completely solid - my He-Man's sword, for example, is made of such weak
plastic that the bottom parts are a little bent. But overall the figures
are constructed of sturdy plastic.
Value - ***1/2
This seems like the best place to mention that each
figure comes with a two-year warranty(!). So go ahead and throw it against
the wall if you want to. Just don't mention that when you ask for a
replacement figure. Actually, I don't want to seen as advocating fraud, so
don't throw it against the wall with the intention of cashing in on the
warranty, okay? Thanks.
I'd pay any price for these, natch, but their ARP is $7.99. That's
pretty reasonable for the size of the figure and the average amount of
accessories. But I suggest avoiding the comic shops. I wanted mine early,
but these will be flooding the brick-and-mortar stores by the end of July.
Overall - ****
And thus I end this, my masterpiece in the genre
of toy reviewing. Thank you, Four Horsemen, and thank you, Mattel, for
bringing my childhood back to me in such stunning form. Am I a biased
reviewer? Yes. But I'm also an unforgivingly pessimistic and cynical one,
and if these figures had failed to meet my expectations, I would have
grudgingly admitted it. As it is, I am pleasantly surprised by just how
sublime these toys are. Yes, I just called some toys sublime.
Where to Buy -
If you're bound and determined to get these
online, I recommend Toybliss.com, where at last check they were selling
these for the weirdly low price of $6.99. But Toybliss doesn't have the
villains; try Entertainment Earth
(MROTW Affiliate) and BigBadToyStore for those.
Toysrus.com (MROTW Affiliate) has them for pre-order at $9.99 apiece, but again, I recommend
waiting a few weeks and scoring them all at your local Wal-Mart or TRU.
Figures from the collection of Poe Ghostal.