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Masters of the Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

Spend any time reading various toy-related blogs and forums and you encounter a lot of complaining, nitpicking and so forth. It's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture: we finally got He-Ro! (Oh, and movie-based Ghostbusters figures.)

In 1987, Mattel's Masters of the Universe, once master of the action figure boys' toys aisle, was on its last legs (due as much to corporate mismanagement as any true waning of popularity). Mattel's designers tried to inject some life back into the brand with the Powers of Grayskull concept, set in a prehistoric "Pre-Eternia" long before He-Man's time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and evil stalked the land in the form of the Snake Men.

Some of the Powers of Grayskull toys made it into stores, such as the incredibly awesome Tyrantisaurus Rex (which I owned and, later, painted red to make it into Devil Dinosaur... man, I wish I still had that thing), but none of the human figures made it to retail, including the main character, He-Ro. However, photos of these figures did appear in product catalogs, which eventually made the rounds among fans, and thus He-Ro passed into MotU legend.

According to the licensing guide for Powers of Grayskull, He-Ro's real name was originally "Gray," and as a teenager he was granted mysterious sorcerous abilities after an adventure in a cave (paging Dr. Freud!). There was also some hints among the various materials and from interviews with designers that He-Ro was intended to be He-Man's ancestor, a role that was changed to King Grayskull in the 2002 cartoon series.

The brand managers at Mattel are slowly developing a new canon for Masters of the Universe Classics, incorporating bits and pieces from every incarnation of MotU to date. To make his story fit - particularly when the mythos (muthos?) incorporates the very similar King Grayskull - they created a very different bio for He-Ro:

Given the sword of He by the Overlords of the Timeless Dimension on Trolla, Ro was told to "go forth and combat evil." During one such epic battle, he was infected by a techno-organic virus by Horde Supreme and sent through a vortex to the magic planet of Eternia. Once there, he was healed by Eldor in a mystical pool which absorbed his virus. In gratitude, He-Ro swore to help free Eternia from the Snake Men and Horde Invaders. He defended the free people alongside King Grayskull, eventually bequeathing his sword to the king upon his heroic death.

He-Ro is shipped in a white mailer box, inside which is a standard MotU Classics package. I'm quite relieved I didn't have to pay for some insane talking cardboard castle this time around. He-Ro is well-displayed in the package, although his staff is mostly hidden.

The Four Horsemen have done a great job as usual, updating He-Ro into the MotU Classics style. There's a good amount of first-time tooling here, including the gauntlets, boots, armor, and head. It's all closely modeled on the prototype, with a few added details and a bit of streamlining here and there. The overall look of He-Ro befits his "cosmic sorcerer" identity: he looks like something cooked up by Jack Kirby for the New Gods (particularly with that staff). I always enjoyed the recombinant genre aspects of MotU, blending sword and sorcery and science fiction, and He-Ro is a much better example of it than He-Man himself.

There were a lot of concerns of He-Ro being "cross-eyed" based on the marketing photos, but in these production pieces it seems fine (he's maybe a bit contemptative/dazed/high, but not cross-eyed). He has the same square jaw and "dry look" hair of the original figure, who seems to have been based on A-Team-era Dirk Benedict. He-Ro 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 original He-Ro would have apparently had vac-metallized golden chrome on his chest and boots. All that shininess added to the Kirby-esque effect, and while a chromed version might have made a good variant, the softer gold used here was probably the right choice; the chrome would have clashed with the other MotU Classics figures (as well as just being terrible in general). He-Ro is molded mostly in the same durable, smooth plastic we've seen on the rest of MotU Classics. His armor is fairly pliable, but his cape is harder than previous MotU Classics figures (not as bad as, say, DCU Classics Ares - more like Doctor Impossible).

His paint applications are a bit more varied and detailed than we've seen on most previous MotU Classics figures, with blue on the greaves and gauntlets and red on the loinguard, with silver and gold rivets (um, ouch?). In a nod to the 2002 line, he also has that odd "Grayskull" logo on his cape. My figure's logo has some scratches on it, and I'm not entirely sure whether it came that way or if it was my fault.

He-Ro comes with the translucent blue "Sword of He," which is speckled with silver. I think the idea might be that the sword is a physical manifestation of the blue energy force that, in the 2002 series pilot, the Elders transformed into and placed themselves into the Power Sword. On the other hand, it could simply be the normal Power Sword glowing with energy.

He-Ro's other accessory is his Power Staff, which is quite reminiscent of the Cosmic Key from the 1987 live-action movie (and came with Gwildor). Each He-Ro comes with one of three colored gems - green, red, or purple. While I wouldn't say the gem looks cheap, its shape and color does make it appear an awful lot like something you would have gotten with a MotU figure in the 1980s - but I kind of like that retro feel, personally. The four upper parts of the staff snap together at the top, and will stay that way with ease.

I'll admit, I was surprised we got He-Ro so early in MotU Classics. I was fairly sure Mattel wasn't all that interested in producing a figure that was so obscure; He-Ro never even made a full appearance in a mini-comic, much less a cartoon. But once in a while Mattel does (pleasantly) surprise us. Not only did He-Ro turn out to be a great SDCC exclusive, but he was also relatively easy to get via Mattel's website, taking three hours to sell out. [yes, that's what counts as "easy" on their site; sad, isn't it? --ed.] I was lukewarm about last year's King Grayskull; I never liked the character much, mostly because he was so similar to He-Man. He-Ro, on the other hand, is one of my favorite MotU Classics figures so far.

-- 08/24/09

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