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Masters of the Universe Classics
by Artemis

I was a latecomer to She-Ra: Princess of Power - never watched it when it was originally on TV, because it was "for girls," which to my young boy-brain meant "unwatchable garbage." To be fair, most girls' TV was unwatchable garbage (same as what the boys got), but it wasn't until many years later that I found out that She-Ra was actually Masters of the Universe continued, just with a slightly brighter palette and all the men replaced with hot women. Pity none of the commercials mentioned that, or maybe the ratings would've been better.

A disputed monarch from the Tri Star System, C'yra joined the Horde Empire and was given a magical mask which granted her secret powers such as the ability to transform into a panther. She travelled with Horde Commander Kur to Eternia on his mission to ensure He-Ro was destroyed. There, along with the rest of the Horde army, she was caught up in the Great Wars and eventually banished to Despondos by King Grayskull. She remained with her leader throughout their banishment and was eventually promoted to Force Captain after Hordak's step-daughter betrayed the Horde to the Etherian Rebellion. Catra's jealousy of She-Ra has become her greatest weakness.

Catra never had an origin story in the original TV show - the minicomics packaged with the figures were another matter, but nobody in their right mind would want to remember those. Although apparently Mattel does (and "nobody in their right mind" would explain why they think that smirking little arsehole Matty is a good mascot) because that's where they're getting the jealousy bit from; Catra's subtitle (reproduced on the retro-look MOTUC packaging) "jealous beauty" referred to her and She-Ra vying for Bow's affections. The disputed monarch story fits her cartoon portrayal though - rather than jealousy (though she did once get into a spat with She-Ra over a man; Sea Hawk rather than Bow, since by 10 minutes into the first episode it was pretty obvious that horse had flown Prince Adam's way) she was just narcissistic and power-hungry, even attempting to overthrow Hordak now and then. Although he kind of brought it on himself, assigning her Grizzlor as her lieutenant all those times - that kind of frustration would drive a Swiss Guard to mutiny.

She's a snappy dresser though - if your tastes run to disco. Like everyone on Etheria who wasn't a stylized caricature or Shadow Weaver, she seemed determined to show as much skin as an '80s children's cartoon would allow. Indeed, the figure is on the modest side, giving her an actual skirt, rather than just having her swanning around in her underwear; either Mattel's feeling skittish or, as with the earlier Adora figure, they decided a slight tweak to the costume looked better than having the hip joints visible. Either way it beats the horrific fuzzy skirt her original action figure had. Like the other MOTUC girls, her costume - barring boots and vambraces - is a separate layer from the body underneath (so the latter can be re-used), which gives it a much thicker, bulkier look than the skin-tight outfits you generally see on female figures of this ilk, although by the same token the figure as a whole is more substantial than the thin-limbed femmes that'll make up most of a modern collection, so the dress doesn't look out of place in context.

The Horde (the Evil Horde, to give it its proper title - their PR isn't great, it must be said) favours red for its logos and such, and in probably her only wholly loyal move (although she was never shy to kiss butt when it looked like it'd benefit her) Catra's adopted that wholesale, with a red-on-red ensemble that's very well rendered, the Horde winged skull and belt standing out clearly in brighter, glossier paint than the flat crimson fabric. (Speaking of Horde Red, Adora's red tunic? Yep, that's her old Horde Force Captain uniform. You'd think she'd get a change of clothes once she'd joined the Rebellion, it's like a Nazi defector continuing to wear his SS uniform just for old time's sake.) Her vambraces and boots are painted to match the logo and belt - all the glossy areas have a paint wash, but it varies from barely visible on the logo and belt to very heavy on the boots, where it's pooled into an almost solid shadow on her toes. And just to round things off, she's got a cape, incorporating a collar that'd turn Carol Ferris orange with envy (which ought to turn down, not up, at the tips, but near enough) - it's a separate piece, entirely free-floating, and although it sits on her shoulders well, turning the head with its long ponytail can easily push the cape sideways, such that the front of the collar won't line up with the top of the bodice the way it's supposed to. It's not insurmountable, you just need to work with the figure a bit to find a pose where everything sits properly.

Faithful, thankfully, to the TV show rather than the characterless beatific smile of the original toy, Catra's sporting a malicious frown, and cheekbones you could use to slice through the jawbridge of Castle Grayskull. The translation from flat animation to three dimensions isn't flawless - I find the angle of the eyebrows not quite right, and the eyes themselves ought to be opened wider, to look more enraged than coldly superior. To tell the truth, she actually looks more like fellow Hordeling Scorpia than Catra, except for not having really appalling eye shadow, but their faces aren't that dissimilar, and framed by Catra's distinctive mask it's certainly near enough to pass muster. Her hair - which is enormous, spilling down in a gigantic ponytail that almost reaches her knees - has a very minor dark blue highlight; to the naked eye it's near as makes no difference plain black, and while it could be argued her "blue" hair in the cartoon was a rendering of lustrous black given a limited palette, I'd have rather seen pure dark blue hair.

Articulation will be familiar to anyone who's seen a MOTUC female before: balljoint neck and shoulders, pin elbows, swivel wrists, balljoint hips, peg knees, and peg/rocker ankles. There's allegedly a waist joint under the dress, but it's functionally immobilized, so it's out of contention. Even so, it's a very versatile body - per my wait-for-a-convention policy for buying MOTUC (regardless of the reported frustration of ordering through Mattel's site, and wasting money paying shipping on one figure at a time, I just will not hand over money on a site where that smirking gobshite mascot is watching) I picked up Catra, Adora and She-Ra all at once, and had a great time positioning them, finding dynamic poses that suited their personalities, and didn't once get frustrated by any limitations of the figures the way I did with, picking a recent example, Commander Shepard (the only frustrating part was getting She-Ra's head on - very tight-fitting balljoint socket). Speaking of posing, it's certainly worth noting that Catra (in common with all the MOTUC girls I have, including last year's find Teela) is exceptionally stable. She's got peg holes in both feet (although you'll have to provide your own base), but even without them I've got her standing perfectly happily with her feet very close together, and near parallel, as in this review's top photo. Try that with most figures wearing high heels and see if you can count to five before they fall over.

She has a fairish wealth of accessories too, starting with a silver buckler bearing a snarling cat face, and a silver feline mask, both recreations of the original figure's accessories. The mask fits nice and tight on her face (without needing the strap of the '80s version) but winds up with a somewhat awkward downward angle to it - maybe intentional, since the original did as well. It's just plain silver with painted green eyes, but the dully metallic plastic gives it a pleasingly defined look. The buckler goes an extra step, not only with a translucent "jewel," but with the recessed areas of the design painted in darker grey, which really makes the face stand out. Standing in for the generic pink comb the original figure had (for its combable hair, because obviously the best way to capitalize on girls buying He-Man toys is to craft a line specifically including all the Barbie fashion crap they were trying to avoid to begin with) Catra gets a whip with the comb design built into the handle; the angled teardrop hilt (shared with MOTUC She-Ra's axe) is also a recreation of the old generic comb's handle, showing solid attention to detail.

Catra also gets the mask she actually wore - Filmation redesigned the She-Ra characters pretty heavily (for the most part diplomatically claiming they needed to be "simplified" for animation purposes, but we all know what they wanted to say was that Mattel's designs were shit and they could do a lot better), so unless you're a rabid retro figure enthusiast, you'll want her sporting her crimson mask; like the silver it's plain plastic with green eyes, but in this case the simple design, rather than metallic paint, makes it look good that way. It's molded on the back to fit snugly on Catra's forehead, as it should be - she only moved it down over her eyes to change into her panther form (which was not the godawful stupid "Clawdeen" lion, who showed up separately, and thankfully only briefly, in the show).

She's also got a new sword - new for this toyline, at least. It's not based on her original toy, but rather on an accessory that came with the "Shower Power Catra" released in 1987. And it's a fine design, with a cat face worked into the guard, a triangular blade that looks similar to She-Ra's Sword of Secrets but clearly is its own version, and a pointy pink diamond set into either side of it; you can even forgive the cutesy pink, since the sword as a whole manages to look rather sleek in spite of it. Unfortunately it fell prey to the packaging, winding up bent one way and then back the other, and with two dents in the edge where the twisty-tie pressed against it when done up too tightly. A shame, it's a good sword - the saving grace, insofar as it is one, is that Catra never really went in for trademark weapons in a big way, other than her turn-into-a-panther trick; when that didn't work, she often as not just grabbed a generic Horde laser rifle. (That's a compression phaser rifle from Diamond Select's Star Trek range she's got in the photo up near the top.)

She's not, as the lady herself would've said, purrr-fect (oh yes, she was every cat-lady cliche you care to name - she'd even occasionally be seen drinking milk from a bowl, or licking the back of her hand to clean up; the Fright Zone was just fetish central sometimes), but she's close - really, the differences between her (wearing her red mask) and her cartoon self are the kind of things only truly tragic fans would notice (hi). And more importantly, she's fun. She's a well-made figure, sturdy and versatile, that you can play around with as well as put on the shelf as a nostalgic display piece, and any She-Ra fan ought to be happy to have her. If only Mattel wouldn't make it such a pain to get her and her ilk.

-- 06/27/11

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