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Masters of the Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

After He-Man and Skeletor, one of the most iconic Masters of the Universe characters is Man-At-Arms, King Randor's faithful military advisor and friend to Prince Adam, a.k.a. He-Man. Man-At-Arms, whose real name is Duncan, was also the earliest example of the more science fiction-oriented aspect of the Masters' universe. While He-Man and Skeletor would fit perfectly in any sword and sorcery setting (for example, both have counterparts in World of Warcraft), Duncan is clearly a character not of the past or even the present, but the future.

For two centuries, the Eternian weapons master and combat instructor to the royal family has been called the "Man-At-Arms." Trained by the renowned tactician Dekker and a veteran of the Great Unrest, Duncan was asked by King Randor to step into this position and fortify his guard with an elite strike force, which he named The Masters of the Universe. In addition to his skills in combat, Duncan is also a great inventor and helped construct an electronic version of the Power Sword for Adam to use until he could unite both halves of the sword of King Grayskull. Man-At-Arms and his adopted daughter Teela often scout the borders of Eternia for signs of lurking evil.

In his original 1980s incarnation, MAA came only with his distinctive asymmetrical armor and iconic mace. Many kids remember how Duncan had a mustache on the Filmation cartoon, but his figure was bare-lipped. MAA's 2002 figure offered a much more detailed sculpt and added an oversized anime-style gun, as well as finally giving him the mustache he deserved.

Like the rest of the MOTU Classics figures, the new Man-At-Arms owes much more to his original look than his 2002 figure. However, there are some nice new touches, including two heads (one mustachioed, one bare) and more weapons, so that Duncan can finally boast of being a master-of-arms.

(On a side note, I've always wondered if Duncan, or at least his name, was inspired by Duncan Idaho, one of the main characters in Frank Herbert's epic Dune, and also a master-of-arms).

I was never that fond of the 2002 Man-At-Arms figure, who had a tiny head and oversized armor, particularly that ridiculous shoulder pad. This figure is a return to the more conservatively-styled Duncan of my youth. We've seen this body sculpt plenty of times before, though one thing I'd like to mention that's been bothering me: aren't the hands on these figures a little small? They look a bit odd at the end of the huge arms, but maybe that's just how bodybuilders' hands look...

In any event, the new sculpting comes primarily from the armor and head. Unlike the 2002 armor, this time it looks somewhat functional, like something you might actually see on a real-life soldier in the near future. If you compare the armor to the original 1980s figure, you'll see that most of the little touches, from the air(?) tank on the chest to the smallest little wire, have been reproduced and updated. There's also a rolled-up sleeping bag attached to his lower back, another nice touch that reinforces the idea of Man-At-Arms as a self-reliant soldier. Perhaps my favorite touch, though, is the fact that there's detailing on the inside of the rebreather/mouthplate, even though you'll never see it when on display.

Both head sculpts are essentially identical except for the mustache. While the 2002 figure's head very much resembled the cartoon version of Duncan, this figure's head is clearly based on the original figure; they just slapped a mustache on it for the alternate head. Still, the mustache makes the character a lot more distinctive, and I imagine many fans will be displaying him this way.

MAA is molded primarily in a fairly dark shade of green (almost pine). It almost looks a little too dark, considering how bright the colors of the original figure were. I've read about some complaints regarding this figure, such as very dark red washes on the armor or paint slop all over, but my figure appears to suffer from few of these issues. I very much like the flat yellow plastic used for the armor, and the light red wash gives it a distinctive look. The paint work is a bit uneven around the furry edging of the armor, and the red jewel on his belt isn't quite filled in.

There is one odd thing. When I removed the chest armor, I discovered that the chest wasn't smooth and pristine. It looks like the armor might have been glued on (why, I have no idea - the straps work fine). Fortunately, I have no plans to ever display this figure sans armor, but it's yet another weird example of Mattel's QC issues.

Man-At-Arms features balljoints at the shoulders and hips, hinge joints at the elbows, knees, ankles and abdomen, and swivels at the biceps, wrists, waist and calves. The ankles also have "rocker" side-to-side motion. The ankles on my figure were very loose.

On the original figure, the fact that the armor on the left arm went all the way down to the wrist wasn't a concern, since the figure didn't have any elbow articulation. But the 2009 figure does, so to deal with that issue, the Horsemen cleverly designed the forearm piece to slide over the segmented end of the bicep piece, so that went the arm is bent, it looks like the segmented piece is "extended," but when the arm is straight it's hidden, as if it had collapsed like an accordion. All of the armor can be removed, and is attached with fairly strong pegs and straps.

Duncan comes with his trademark mace, which looks like an amalgam between the original figure's version and the larger, more complicated 2002 look, but is actually identical to the one on the original cardback art. It's made from a more rubbery material than the other two weapons (the same stuff Zodac's gun is made from), and due to its weight, it might sag over time if held at an angle. However, if you just spin the weapon around the opposite way, it'll correct itself.

He also comes with a pistol and a small sword. The sword is based on the one from the classic weapons pack, but I'm not sure about the pistol. It sure looks familiar, though. Finally, there's the 2002 Power Sword. It's probably the best-looking incarnation of this sword yet, though I have to admit, I don't think it works with the MOTUC story or aesthetic. Still, it's a nice bonus, and a sop to 2002-era fans. As you can see, all three of Duncan's weapons can be attached to his backpack.

Aside from the glue on the chest - which is hidden, so I really don't care about it - my figure had very loose ankles. So loose he wouldn't stand on his own, necessitating using the Super Glue trick, which did work.

The great-looking armor, alternate head and extra accessories lift Duncan above an average figure. I have a few nitpicks with him, from the loose ankles to the choice of green to the glue-frosted chest, but he's still one of my favorite MOTUC figures thus far. And it sure is nice to finally get another good guy... He-Man was looking pretty sad with just Stratos on his side (I don't count Zodac because he's "neutral," and I don't count King Grayskull because he's dead).

-- 03/22/10

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