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Shadow Beast

Masters of the Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

The 1980s He-Man cartoon, produced by a company called Filmation, had no shortage of monsters throughout its run - many monsters of various sizes and shapes. But as much as there could be said to have been a signature monster in Filmation's Eternia, it would be the Shadow Beast.

Great ape-like beasts who live in tribes throughout the dark hemisphere, Shadow Beasts can only come out in the absence of light. Originally created by Count Marzo as a weapon to use against his enemies, the beasts were driven back by Princes Keldor and Randor and forced to reside in the shadows of Mount Barathrum. There they developed a longstanding hatred of both the Human and Gar race. Easily manipulated, the ever growing colony of Beasts was later controlled by Beast Man in the service of Skeletor to take down Eternos Palace. With their great strength and stealth-like appearance, Shadow Beasts are more than a match for most heroic warriors!

First appearing in "Teela's Quest," an episode penned by Paul Dini and easily one of the series' best, the Shadow Beasts would later show up in three more episodes: "A Beastly Sideshow," "Prince Adam No More" (also a famous Dini episode) and "The Rarest Gift of All." Their distinctiveness would even get them their own episode of the 2003 Mike Young Productions He-Man cartoon, "Night of the Shadow Beasts" (written by Michael Reaves, who, like Dini, worked on the original He-Man cartoon as well as Batman: The Animated Series).

The Shadow Beasts of the MYP cartoon were different from the Filmation version: they were larger and more gorilla-like, had two horns on their forehead instead of one, and five fingers rather than three. It's clear the subject of this review, the new Masters of the Universe Classics figure, is based firmly on the Filmation look, rather than the 2003 look. Given that Mattel has told us time and again they don't have the rights to the Filmation cartoon or anything created by it, we're not sure how this is possible.

The Shadow Beast shares many of its pieces with Gygor, as you'd expect - in fact, my hunch is that the idea for a Shadow Beast came first and Gygor was the second figure they realized they could get out of the sculpt. Dispute about the rights aside, sculpting-wise the Four Horseman did a great job on making a slightly-more-ferocious Filmation Shadow Beast. There's not a whole lot to discuss here, though - the Shadow Beast is mostly a gorilla with new hands and feet and a new head.

The Shadow Beast feels a bit more hollow and rubbery than Gygor. Some have said he's too rubbery, but that hasn't been my impression; that said, my SB has been sitting on a window ledge and it's been pretty cold lately, so my figure may be more solid than one sitting on a shelf in a non-air-conditioned home in Florida.

Then there are the paint applications. The Shadow Beasts of the Filmation era had a distinctive purple-brown color, while the Shadow Beasts of the MYP were blue-black. So naturally, MOTUC Shadow Beast is solid brown. Huh? Given Mattel's willingness to go all out with Gygor's screaming-yellow-and-green color scheme, it's puzzling that they'd go for such a drab look with the Shadow Beast.

The dark brown fur and beige hands and feet would be fitting for a real-life animal, but they're not very exotic or exciting for a MOTU toy. But there are plenty who are pleased with his "realistic" coloring and are glad he's not a goofy purple-ish color, and we can understand that. Color choices aside, the paintwork on the fur is good, with a nice drybrush to bring out the details. But the black on the claws and horn is a bit too thick and sloppy, and while the wash on the snout area looks nice, the uneven edges around the snout and nose hurt the overall effect.

The Shadow Beast has the same articulation as Gygor. I think the head is intended to be a balljoint, but the range of motion is severely restricted - for all intents and purposes, it's a swivel joint. He also has ball-and-hinge articulation at the shoulders and ankles. The ankles have only a slight forward-and-back range and are very tight, so you might not even notice the hinge is there. The shoulders appear to have a slight ratcheting effect to them, which is an improvement over Gygor (however, after messing with both figures, it's so slight I can't say so for sure). He has hinges at the elbows and swivel joints at the biceps, wrists, and hips.

The restricted neck articulation is disappointing, but what we really would have liked to see would be some good ball-and-hinge wrists. It would have given the figure the touch of character it really needs, and allowed for some great monstrous posing.

The Shadow Beast comes with a giant club... a somewhat puzzling giant club. The Shadow Beasts in both cartoon incarnations were a bit too stupid to use tools. They certainly didn't seem capable of hammering spikes into a club, much less spikes that are actually nailed in themselves. Furthermore, the club is obviously made from a tree that was cut down with a saw, and the handle is taped up - are we to assume Shadow Beasts are smart enough to use power tools (or at least two-handed saws) and adhesives? Finally, the whole of the outside of the club appears to be made of bark, but what sort of tree tapers from that thick a trunk to a tiny nub? The broad, wide fingers give him problems when holding his club. And because he's hollow (and the club solid plastic), he doesn't have a very strong center of mass, so if you pose him with the club held too far out in front of or behind him, he's going to topple over.

We're mostly kidding here, but it is kind of an odd accessory. Perhaps a regular old club, sans sawed end, tape and spikes, would have been less interesting. Just pretend he got it from his boss (Beast Man or Count Marzo, depending on your preferred cartoon era) or kiped it from Tytus.

However much you like the club, it's still disappointing as the lone accessory. For the same price, Gygor came with a ton of removable armor as well as an axe. It just doesn't compare, and Mattel should have included some sort of fun little extra accessory. (A Widget would have been neat, but they're owned by Filmation.)

The Shadow Beast is a very average entry into the Classics line. While his sculpt is accurate to the Filmation cartoon, it's also the best part of the figure. The colors are uninspiring and the accessory is well-sculpted but boring. Of course, he's a big monster, and that's always fun... but he could have been so much more.

-- 06/13/11

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