"Army builder" action figures are figures of generic characters, often in uniform, who can be bought in bulk without making it look like you have a dozen of the same exact person. The classic example is the Star Wars Stormtrooper, and good lord there are collectors out there with a lot of Stormtroopers. In the vintage Masters of the Universe line, the only real armybuilder was the Horde Trooper. But after a big year of firsts for MOTUC - Battle Cat, Tytus, and modern characters like Chief Carnivus, Mattel wraps it up with their first Army Builder 2-Pack. The set was scheduled to go on sale in December, but was delayed to January.
From across the Light Hemisphere of Eternia, the bravest and most noble warriors in Randor's Kingdom were recruited by Man-At-Arms and later Clamp Champ to help guard the Royal Family. Often called upon to aid the Masters of the Universe, the royal guards are trained in multiple forms of hand-to-hand combat and are masters of many weapons, including the Power Staff and several types of Energy Blasters. Whenever the Royal Palace is threatened, it is the strength of the elite guardsmen which often repel evil. Brave Warriors like Lieutenant Spector defend the Royal Family from attack.
The set features the two Guards side by side, one with an open helmet, the other with the faceplate attached. The shields (which we'll eventually see on Stinkor) are featured prominently, as is the revised mace and the new Grayskull halberd. It would have been nice to see the other two heads and chest plates featured in the packaging itself, though.
As you might expect, the
Guards bear a strong resemblance to Man-At-Arms, with the significant difference that they have armor on both their left and right arms and legs. The symmetrical armor is great, and one of the first things you'll have to try is putting it on your Man-At-Arms to create a Filmation version. It looks great, and when you removed the extra armor, Duncan looks kind of weird - half-naked, as it were. You have to wonder why the vintage figure didn't have matching armor - budget issues, most likely, rather than a design choice.
But getting back to the Guards: the body sculpts are the standard human male body, with Keldor boots.
The Guards were actually delayed so that Mattel could rework the bodies with the Keldor boots rather than the standard He-Man-style leather boots, which is a bit odd, since Man-At-Arms wears the leather boots. Furthermore, due to the tall, projecting, pointed peaks on the shins of the Keldor boots, the shin guards ride a little high and are difficult to strap on. That said, one advantage of the Keldor boots is that even without the shin guards, the Guards' feet look armored.
While the arm and leg armor is identical to Man-At-Arms's, the chest armor is a brand-new sculpt. The armor features removable chest plates, much like Battle Armor He-Man, and two clips on the back to hold weapons. There are four plates: an "eagle" plate, a plain lined plate, and two damaged plates - one with a single slash, one with two slashes. One thing to mention is that the chest armor is a real pain to take off, particularly since the tabs feel a bit brittle and should be handled with care.
While the portrait on the bio (in that small circle in the corner that the design always features) is drawn directly from the 2002 cartoon, the heads of the figures themselves have been properly "Classics-ized." There are four heads, each of them an all-new sculpt:
- A human head that is not supposed to be Clamp Champ, despite what some initially thought;
- A feline humanoid head, presumably a Qadian on loan from Chief Carnivus;
- A reptilian head, which may or may not be a reference to a proposed 2002 cartoon storyline in which Man-At-Arms becomes a Snake Man permanently (and looks a hell of a lot like Grig from The Last Starfighter)
- And a second human head, with a sculpt based on Mattel's MOTUC brand manager, Scott Neitlich.
The idea of the guards being from different races is clever (and we're especially fond of the reptile man), but the sculpts for all four heads are great. The removable faceplates are a wonderful touch too, and have just the right Classics touch when compared to the 2002 version in the portrait.
The figures are molded primarily in green plastic, and there are minimal paint applications on the bodies, since there's really not much to paint aside from the loincloths and belts. The armor has some shiny touches here and there that help to bring out the detail in the sculpt.
The color and texture of the plastic used for the armor is really good - a kind of matte yellow tinged with orange. But as with Man-At-Arms, the plastic used for the chest armor isn't all that durable, which means that when you place the weapons on the clips in the back, they bend a bit and you can see a white stress mark where the plastic has bent. So far it doesn't seem to be a major problem, even after repeated replacement of the weapons.
The most paintwork on the figures can be found on the heads, and it's pretty well done this time around. The reptilian head, with its multi-hued green skin and gleaming red eyes, looks the best.
The Guards come armed to the teeth with two halberds, two shields, a mace, and an axe. The halberds are from the Grayskull weapons set; the mace is similar to Moss Man's but a brand-new sculpt;
the shields are the "basic shield" seen in the vintage Weapons Pack and Stinkor; the axe was seen last month with Buzz-Off.
While this bounty of weapons is more than welcome and adds a lot of value to the set, the sculpts themselves look a bit "soft," for lack of a better term, in person. There's no telling whether this is due to the production process or if the silver paint is rather thick. It's not a big problem, but it's worth nothing. Also, the shields are a bit difficult to fit on the Guards' arms due to the forearm armor.
I got the first big QC issue of my MOTUC collecting career with this set. One of the figures' feet was stuck solid, and when I tried to move it, it snapped right off. I glued the foot back on, and the other figure's feet are fine. Still, for a perfectionist like me, it's a bummer.
So let's summarize what you get with this $40 set: two figures with full armor, four heads with removable faceplates, four interchangeable armor plates, and six weapons. When compared to other MOTUC figures, I think that's a standard-to-pretty-good value. It certainly offers plenty of incentive to buy a second set or even a third and fourth set, as the four heads and four faceplates offer 16 unique looks.
If not for the broken foot, I'd love this set, but that - and MOTUC's general ongoing QC issues - do knock them down a little. The good news is that Mattel's website actually has a pretty decent customer service department, so if yours break you can send them back and get a replacement.
As for whether I'm officially recommending getting them? Put it this way - I'm thinking of buying a second set myself.