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by yo go re

When the He-Man cartoon debuted in 1983, it was a huge hit. So huge, in fact, that every other company tried to copy its success. Of course, it takes time to get a new series going, which is why so many classic cartoons debuted in 1985. The biggest, obviously, was GI Joe, but there's no overlooking the Thundercats.

Lion-O is the brave and powerful leader of the Thundercats. He carries the mystical Sword of Omens and a metal lions' claw shield. The sword gives him super-human strength and mystical powers to help him battle the Evil Mutants army of Mumm-Ra.

Son of Claudis and hereditary lord of the Thundercats, Lion-O was just a boy when his home planet of Thundera was destroyed. Sure, he physically aged while in suspended animation on his way to "Third Earth," but mentally he was still a child - not a good trait for a leader to have, so half the series was about him learning how to interact with adults without being an utter pantload (a lesson most commentors on the internet apparently never learned, thereby making a cartoon cat-man from 25 years ago a better person than anyone who's ever replied to a YouTube video).

LJN had the Thundercats license, and they were very good about keeping the main characters in circulation - these days we'd complain about that, but the supply of Thundercats toys never really outpaced the demand, not the way MOTU figures eventually did. And while they didn't design stupid new costumes for the new releases, there were notable changes between every series. For instance, this is the first release, as evidenced by the fact that his hair and accessories are orange, not red. The sculpt is much "softer" than He-Man and his pals, with flat, doughy muscles that seem to have been designed by someone who didn't actually have a firm grasp of anatomy. The costume details are a bit better than the uncovered skin, though - crisper and more accurate.

The paint has held up surprisingly well, so much respect to whoever owned this one before I bought it in a giant bag of Thundercats at last year's toy show. His limbs are more vibrant than his torso, but the pale yellow on his hands, mouth and eyes is nearly flawess. His eyes are rimmed with black, to make them stand out nicely, and there's no major slop between the colors of his suit.

Lion-O has two built-in action features. The first, "Battle-Matic Action," makes his arm swing when you press the lever on his back (though only with your forefinger, no others; the instructions are oddly specific about that). There's also a "Secret Power Ring" that will cause the figure's eyes to light up when it's pressed into his back. You know, for when he's using his "sight beyond sight." In addition to the ring/battery compartment, he also includes the Sword of Omens and his Claw Shield. I honestly expected the claw to be a sculpted part of his arm, but no, it's removable. Cool! Granted, it should only have three fingers, not four, but the detail is otherwise pretty good.

When the new Thundercats toys were unintentionally "announced," a lot of folks questioned the size of the "Classic Collector" Lion-O - 8" seems remarkably oversized. Well, it turns out that's just following tradition, because the real classic Lion-O is pretty big himself. He's more than 7" tall, which makes him a giant for the era. He's the same scale compared to me today that Panthro was to 10-year-old me. Putting this next to a vintage He-Man would be like mixing your Marvel Legends and your Sigma 6. And yet he only moves at the Big Five, and they're all swivels.

Like we said, the first Lion-O had orange hair, while the second series had red. However, there was an orange-haired Lion-O available with Series 2: he came with an exclusive Snarf.

Snarf was Lion-O's nursemaid, which is really kind of weird. He's an animal, right? He's not one of the Thundercats, because he's not half human. He's some sort of cat-lizard. He's a single solid lup of PVC as tall as Lion-O's knee. He's molded in pink plastic (you can tell if you look up his massive cloaca) and given at least four paint apps, which is pretty impressive for a glorified accessory.

If you want to stock up on Thundercats before the new toys come out later this year, getting loose samples is pretty affordable. I never had Lion-O as a kid, so I didn't know what to expect from him, but he turned out to be both a bit better and a bit worse than expected.

-- 02/06/11

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