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King Hssss

Masters of the Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

I'm fairly certain King Hssss (then known as the harder-to-trademark King Hiss) was the last Masters of the Universe action figure I owned as a child. I have a distinct memory of playing with him at my family's first house, which we moved to a year or so after I'd mostly lost interest in MOTU. Somehow, King Hiss had an appeal beyond being part of the MOTU universe; I think it was the sheer awesomeness of the multi-snake inner body. I was also quite fond of the green color scheme and the generally reptilian look.

A servant of the Unnamed One, Hssss was chosen to lead an army of Snake Men to the planet of Eternia to plunder its magical secrets. He ruled Eternia for three centuries until a rebellion formed under D'Vann Grayskull. Soon afterwards, the Horde invaded and Hssss was drawn into a three-way war. All three sides agreed to a temporary truce in order to construct the Three Towers, but Hssss was betrayed by Hordak and in time was banished to the Void by the Elders and Zodak. For five centuries he and his army waited until Evil-Lyn and a Snake Men descendent named Kobra Khan opened the Snake Pit to free them. King Hssss often tricks foes by appearing heroic but then transforms into a seething mass of serpents and leads the Snake Men into battle!

I know this is blasphemy to some, but I was never all that fond of the 2003 King Hssss. From a design standpoint, they turned him into the standard D&D mummy-lich creature, a tenth-generation photocopy of Xaltotun from Robert E. Howard's Hour of the Dragon ('03 Hssss also has quite a bit of Mumm-Ra in there, though obviously Mumm-Ra has quite a bit of Xaltotun as well). As the brief comicstrip on the original card art shows, the point of the original King Hiss figure was that he was an evil snake-creature masquerading as a heroic-looking character (note the similarity of his mask to another famous master of disguise). Even the first minicomic to feature King Hiss played on this idea, and his packaging referred to him as the "dreadful disguised leader of the Snake Men." MO2K King Hssss, though? You see him coming, you reach for your sword hilt.

Almost every part of this figure is new. The head sculpt is fantastic, capturing a semi-heroic expression that still has a touch of an evil smirk underneath. The torso sculpt is also excellent, featuring some great, scaly details. The torso is actually a separate, armor-like piece that is glued over the MOTUC standard torso; the armor is not removable, unless you're prepared to glue it back in place afterward. I do find it odd that they used the standard "belly button" lower torso, though, and not the blank Hordak stomach.

If you look at the prototype, it seems the sharpness of some of the details, particularly on the pelvis, were lost in the transition to the production figure. The boot choice also seems poor; the vintage figure's boots were more plain, and frankly, Skeletor's greaves are getting a little tired. It would have been more interesting to have a new boot type with a more plain, flat top, rather than the sharp peaks.

Finally, there's the sculpting on the snake body. The details on the snakes' scales and the two small snake heads are excellent; the scales aren't "soft" as they are on the pelvis. But even if you like the main head, you have to admit that the thick, rounded teeth aren't exactly threatening. Their lack of sharpness may be an inevitable side effect of using the rubbery plastic for the body.

Some collectors said they thought Vikor felt different and somehow "cheaper" than previous MOTUC figures. I didn't feel it then, but I do, a bit, with King Hssss. The plastic used for his pelvis and torso feels lighter, and it may be the reason the details seem a bit too soft. On the other hand, for all we know this plastic was necessary to facilitate the snake-body swap.

The paint apps on the human body, particularly the head, are well executed, with one exception: the belt. The belt itself has no separate paint color from the rest of the pelvis,unlike the vintage figure where it was darker. And the silver buckle has a lot of slop around the edges.

The snake body is a study in contrasts. The backs of the snakes have a very nice orange-like wash over the mustard yellow skin, but the bright yellow used for the undersides of the snakes is thick, gloppy, and sloppily applied, especially beneath the jaws.

Human Hssss features the standard MOTUC articulation: balljoints at the neck, shoulders, and hips; swivels at the waist, wrists, biceps, top of the thighs, and top of the boots; and hinges at the abdomen, elbows, knees, and ankles. With the exception of the ab joint, which is a bit floppy, all the joints are very tight - Mattel seems to have largely fixed this issue. His "rocker" ankle motion works very well, too. The bodies are easily swapped using a plug, and the waist will still swivel for either torso.

The "bendy" snakes work well and look good, but be careful with the big snake's articulated jaw. The paint had sealed the jaw tight, and it needed to be carefully worked loose. Just move it carefully back and forth, using heat or cold as necessary. It felt like the jaw could easily have torn right off the rubbery hinges, so be careful.

Hssss comes with his familiar shield and staff. The staff is actually two separate pieces - a first - and has its own paint apps - also a first. The shield has some paint on the snake as well. Neither accessory is particularly interesting, but the snake body is arguably an accessory and the real highlight here.

The Keldor foot has problems. Specifically, many figures have warped feet, so that the foot curls a bit around the bottom middle of the sole, as if the character were curling his toes. It drives me crazy because the plastic of the foot is so thick, heating and re-bending the foot doesn't work very well. Either the feet are getting pulled from the molds too fast or the figures are being put into the tray too soon (perhaps a little of both). My Hssss has only very slightly warping - this was a much bigger problem with the Eternian Guards - but Mattel has to start checking for this.

King Hssss is my favorite of the Snake Men, and I'm glad he's the first one we got in this line. While the Classics version has some flaws (the soft details, the boots, the underside paint on the snake), he's still a great action figure, and the swappable bodies adds a lot of value. I'll be curious to see which figures, if any, Hssss's body parts can be re-used for. Given their limited re-usability, I have a hunch MO2K fans may get their evil mummy sorcerer yet - perhaps as "Ultimate Battleground King Hssss."

-- 03/07/11

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