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Battle Cat

Masters of the Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

I don't have the best history with Battle Cat.

When I was 6 years old, my cousin (who was also my childhood best friend) received a Battle Cat for his birthday. I didn't have one yet, and being a selfish little brat, apparently, I sulked through the whole party about it. My parents learned their lesson, and the following Christmas my cousin and I both opened Battle Rams courtesy of our respective aunts and uncles.

To be fair, I had no problems getting the Mo2K Battle Cat, though I don't recall whether I bought him at a store or online. But we all know what happened this year.

A member of the Green Tiger Tribe, Cringer was saved from a parek-narr attack by a young Prince Adam and afterwards became his devoted companion for life. He assisted Adam during his quest to unite both halves of the Power Sword of He and afterwards was enhanced by its power to become Battle Cat, the Fighting Tiger of Eternia. Cringer is one of only a handful of allies who knows Adam's secret and fights alongside the other Masters of the Universe, carrying He-Man into battle against the forces of evil.

I loved the original Battle Cat toy, but even then, part of me knew it didn't quite fit with the rest of He-Man - that it was a re-use of some other toy, and its immobile body was odd compared to the human figures. On the other hand, the colors were eye-catching - the stuff of psychedelic 1960s sword-and-planet fantasy - and the mask gave the figure a ferocious look.

I didn't like the 2002 Battle Cat very much, mostly because of the armor. The new mask lacked the distinctive bird-of-prey look of the vintage version, the little paw-covers fell off all the time, and the mounted guns were ludicrous. Even the hardest-dying of diehard 2002 fans have to admit MOTUC Battle Cat has it all over his 2002 counterpart. [let's ask yo, he won't shut up about the old ones. --ed.]

Battle Cat comes packaged in an attractive window box that's evocative of the vintage figure's packaging. Unfortunately, Mattel seems to have had some trouble getting the big kitty to say put; my figure's right back leg had somehow become free of its twist-tie, and the mask was falling off the face. MOC collectors may be compelled to cut a little tape and fix their figures in the package for display purposes.

The bio is interesting - I don't recall ever hearing of a "Green Tiger Tribe" before, but it makes me wonder if it's setting up something that we'll see again with Gygor (the Yellow Ape tribe?) and some of the other beasts. The bio nicely leaves it ambiguous whether Battle Cat can talk.

Even more interesting is the idea of Adam and Cringer going on a quest to unite both halves of the Power Sword - presumably before Adam was able to become He-Man. Now that's a story I'd like to see! I'm thinking a six-issue miniseries written by Geoff Johns.

When the Masters of the Universe toys were first designed in 1982 - before the mini-comics, before the MOTU bible by Michael Halperin and before the cartoon - Battle Cat was just one more repainted Big Jim toy being used as a large "vehicle" for the action figures, but all those media made Battle Cat one of the most iconic characters of the franchise - right behind He-Man and Skeletor. However, from today's perspective, the original Battle Cat toy seems a little underwhelming.

Sculptors extraordinaire the Four Horsemen already gave Battle Cat a decent revamp in 2002, but that was just a practice run for the masterpiece that is the 2010 Battle Cat. Freed from the immobility of the original Battle Cat and even the limited articulation of the 2002 version, the newest Battle Cat is a completely articulated action figure with a wonderfully detailed sculpt and an almost flawless design.

The sculpt is lovingly detailed and walks the fine line between realism and the somewhat minimalist, slightly cartoonish MOTUC style. The bare head features the trademark snarl of the original and some great details, such as the pits on the snout for whiskers (though the whiskers themselves are understandably absent) and one of the more intricately-sculpted tongues I've ever run across. Even the undersides of his paws are sculpted.

The welcome return of the vintage armor gets the A+ treatment as well. The saddle is a lot more detailed, right down to the texture of the leather seat. The seat also has divots in front and back to accommodate the MOTUC figures' stiff loincloths. Unlike the clumsy and prone-to-breakage belt buckle of the vintage Battle Cat, the armor is strapped on with two snaps on the underside of the figure. Some people have had trouble with getting the armor to stay on, but mine is nice and tight.

Finally, there are the "weapon holders" on the armor. The Four Horsemen have confirmed they were intended to be weapon holders, not stirrups. You can slide in the Power Sword or the clip of a shield. It's a nice feature, even if few fans make use of it. The back part of my Battle Cat's armor was slightly warped, but A) I'm sure a quick boil-and-bend would fix it, and B) it's so minor I'm not even going to bother doing that.

Like the original figure, Battle Cat is molded in green plastic with yellow stripes. His claws and the undersides of his paws are painted black, but otherwise the only real paint work is on the head. The eyes, mouth and teeth look great, with very little bleed or slop. The "horns" on the armor are now painted a shiny red, and the leather of the seat, the belt, and the "weapon holders" are painted brown. There's a little bleed around the horns and rivets (man, do the Horsemen love their rivets!), but the leather bits look sharp.

Let me see if I can get this right. Battle Cat's head is sort of a balljoint, though the range is very limited; he can move his head slightly up and down and back and forth, but really the only significant range of motion is a swivel, allowing him to tilt his head quizzically. There's a joint where the neck meets the chest that moves up and down, allowing Battle Cat to look straight forward or down on the ground. I've read that many fans have trouble getting their Cat's next to stay up, but so far mine hasn't had that problem. There's another swivel/hinge joint in the middle of the torso which is similar to an ab crunch, but I don't foresee a lot of use of this joint, because it's restricted by the armor. In addition to the "up and down" motion, the joint seems to allow a slight back-and-forth.

Each leg is attached at the hip with what is basically a swivel/hinge joint with a very slight ability to move outward and inward. I'm not even 100% sure that's intended, but the way the inside of the upper legs are sculpted makes me think it is. From there, The front and back legs are different. The back legs simply have two hinge joints, ending in the swivel/hinge joint of the paws. The front "elbows" are the swivel/hinge combo we've seen on the 6" Ghostbusters or Generation 3 GI Joe figures, as well as the swivel/hinge paws. Finally, the tail is attached with a swivel/hinge joint and the jaws are a hinge, of course.

It all works out to a good, fairly realistic representation of the range of motion an actual tiger would have. The key joints are the neck, the neck/chest, the front elbows and the paws - those are the ones I usually end up fiddling with the most and give the figure the most character.

Even now, as prices in the industry have continued to go up, $20 feels like too much for a MOTUC figure. However, $30 seems just right for Battle Cat. He's a large, detailed, heavily articulated figure who required a lot of brand-new tooling. (Of course, we'll see this mold again - definitely as Panthor, possibly as King Grayskull's lion and perhaps even as Clawdeen.) Of course, Mattel still needs to make these great toys available to fans with minimal trouble.

Despite Trap-Jaw's unquestioned awesomeness, if I were to pick ToY right now, Battle Cat would win the top award. Unfortunately for BC, though, there's still Tytus, Gygor and perhaps even another large figure to contend with before 2010 is out.

On a side note, you know what Mattel needs to make? A real Cringer. By which we mean, a smaller, un-armored tiger to go with the inevitable Prince Adam. Removing the armor on Battle Cat and calling it Cringer was always really unsatisfying to me, since the Cringer in the media - whether he spoke or not - was clearly smaller. Of course, it would require all-new tooling and I can't think of any good re-use (except perhaps in DC Classics? A green tiger Beast Boy as an exclusive, perhaps?), so this is probably a pipe dream, but if they're going to be doing beasts on a regular basis it's one of the more obvious ideas.

-- 09/06/10

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