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Masters of the Universe Classics
by Poe Ghostal

I love Stratos. Something about the design - the gray fur, the red feathered "wings," the jetpack, the flight goggles - really appeals to me. He was one of my favorite He-Man figures as a kid. While I liked most of the '02 MOTU figures, I didn't like the revamped Stratos much. His articulation was limited by his action feature, which probably had a lot to do with it. But ironically, I think it was the consistency and realism the Horsemen added to his design - the feathered loincloth, the jetpack handles - that made him less cool. Stratos is supposed to be a mash-up of various animal parts - it's part of his charm. Fortunately, the Masters of the Universe Classics version of Stratos restores him to his flying-monkey-like glory.

Lord of Avion, a civilization of winged simians who live high on the peaks of the Mystic Mountains, Stratos is a brave honorable warrior allied with King Randor. Although all Avions have the ability to fly using the magical Emerald Staff, many, including Stratos, have augmented their armor with rocket packs and jets to increase their speed and distance. As a member of the Masters of the Universe, Stratos fights bravely against the evil forces of Skeletor.

Stratos features the same small but graphics-intensive packaging we've seen on the other MOTU Classics figures. Stratos arrived in a much smaller shipping box, and his card and bubble were in better condition than He-Man and Beast Man's were. While I don't spend much time with my figures in package, I do like what Mattel is doing with MOTU Classics.

Like all the MOTU Classics figures we've seen so far, Stratos's sculpt is based on the original artwork found on the back of the 1980s packages. Thus, while the majority of the sculpt is very similar to the 1980s figure, it does contain a few unique touches.

The jetpack harness features a small oval buckle; on the original figure, this was an actual clasp used to hold the jetpack to the figure's back. However, the art depicted it as a buckle, and that's how the Horsemen sculpted it (the jetpack can still be removed using some small tabs on the back, beneath the jetpack).

While most of Stratos's body is a re-use of Beast Man, he does have different feet, with no clawed toes. Some fans have complained about this, since the original Stratos and Beast Man had the same feet, but there's a good reason for the change: the art on the original eight-back featured Beast Man with clawed toes and Stratos without them, and that's the way the Horsemen sculpted them. Like it or not, they're sticking faithfully to their design philosophy. The same goes for the clawed hands. Personally, I like the de-clawed feet, as it helps distinguish Stratos more from the Beast Man sculpt, but your mileage may vary, as the kids say these days.

The other new sculpting for the figure is the jetpack, wings, and head. The jetpack could have been a bit more unique and less toy-like, but I think that comes more from the plastic than the sculpt. From the original version to the 2002 to this one, Stratos has probably had the least stylistic development in terms of his head, so there's not much to discuss there - this is pretty much the same head as the 2002 version, just with a balljointed neck.

The detail of the feathering on the wings as good as what we got on Hawkman. However, something odd happened between prototype and production. Since Stratos re-uses the Beast Man body, his bracelets are the same as Beast Man's, except the wings are attached. Unfortunately, the wings aren't on the top of his arms as in the original illustration and the product photo, but rather along the back. This isn't a QC problem because the wings are actually glued on, and this is how every Stratos looks.

At first, I didn't even notice it. But once it was pointed out to me, I couldn't not see it. Fortunately, it's a relatively easy fix. Heat the forearms (I recommend using a hair dryer, but you could boil them as well) and carefully pop out the hands. Then, even more carefully, pull the bracelets off the peg they're attached to. You may need to use an X-Acto knife to separate the glue. Once you've done that, push the bracelets back on, put the hands back on and the bracelets (and wings) will swivel like a normal point of articulation, and you can get your Stratos to look right.

I have to admit, he looks a lot better with the wings in front of his arms. It's the way he looks in the original cardback image, and I don't understand why that's not the way he was produced. It could just be a problem with the factory - such misassembly isn't unheard of, after all.

Stratos is molded mostly in gray plastic, and features one of the better dark washes we've seen on this line. This is one aspect of MOTU Classics that seems to be improving with each figure. I like the shades of red and blue chosen for the rest of his outfit, but I did notice some odd things - the wings appear to have been molded in blue plastic and painted red, while the belt appears to have originally been yellow. It doesn't cause a problem - if anything, it improves the figure by making the wings and belt look less like plastic - but it makes me wonder whether we might get a blue-wing, red-jetpack variant of Stratos down the road (one of those rare variants I'd probably actually buy, as I happened to own that Stratos variant as a kid). There's some good drybrushing on the jetpack's feathers, although the jetpack itself is rather plain. A metallic sheen might have helped the jetpack pop a bit more.

We get the usual MOTU Classics articulation: balljointed neck, balljoints at the shoulders and hips, hinges at the elbows, knees, ankles and torso; and swivels at the biceps, wrists, waist, and just under the hip balljoints. The balljointed neck is important here for the flying poses, although I still wish it could move a bit more forward. Perhaps Mattel and the Horsemen could come up with a new engineering trick for flying characters so they look straight forward when they fly? I'd be willing to accept a slightly sculptural sacrifice to the back of the head to allow for it, although I can't (and wouldn't dare) speak for all collectors.

And really, no accessories? None? Where's the Emerald Staff?

I recently read a post referring to MOTUC as "another monthly bill," and that's true. With shipping, I'm paying more than half my cellphone bill for these things. Since it looks like production will be increasing, is it possible the price could go down a bit? [No. --ed.]

A lot of fans seem to have been disappointed in Stratos, but he's one of my favorites so far - perhaps even more than Skeletor. In my opinion he's an improvement from the 2002 figure, capturing the essence of what I loved about the original Stratos. He'd be even better if the wings could swivel without having to customize the figure.

-- 02/08/10

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