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King Grayskull

Masters of the Universe
by Rustin Parr

Mattel is getting ready to start a new incarnation of He-Man, known as the Masters of the Universe Classics. For all my thoughts on the line, read our new Point of Articulation, "I HAD THE POWER!!!" The first figure offering actually straddles the line between the 2002 line and the new one: SDCC exclusive King Grayskull!

Long before Prince Adam held the Sword of Power to become He-Man, his ancestor, King Grayskull, defended Eternia from evil. Heroically mastering the secret power of his sword, Grayskull fought side-by-side with the cosmic warrior He-Ro against both the evil Hordak and King Hiss.

Although Grayskull eventually fell before Hordak's magic, he was able to preserve his powers inside the sword, so that one day his descendants could reclaim the power and call upon Grayskull's name whenever evil threatens the peace of Eternia. To this day, Grayskull's spirit remains hidden away deep inside the castle which will forever bear his name.

So King Grayskull is basically the dude what empowers Prince Adam to be He-Man and is the namesake for the infamous castle. As such, he is in many ways identical to the He-Man we know and platonically love, though with just enough variance to separate the two men. The most noticeable difference is that Grayskull comes with a big giant cape lined with animal fur at the shoulders. He sports some stylishly long hair with two "ponytails" at the front. This is a direct nod to the Horsemen's original concept for the '02 reboot, but toddler focus groups opted for the shorter, more anime hair (a good decision, let's be honest). He also sports the "bandolier" with the '02 style "asterisk" design. Other than that he pretty much in standard He-Man attire - metal bracelets, a furry loincloth and medieval boots.

The sculpt is very nice, this is definitely a bulkier He-Man than the modern one, which is a nice way to delineate between to the two men. It strikes a nice balance between the grotesque 'roid-raging He-Man of the '80s, and he sleeker look of the '02 reboot. His proportions are far, far less angled than what the Horseman did with the line previously, so unfortunately it's not a perfect fit, but again, that can be shrugged of as the character being "from another time...". He also sports a more European likeness, much closer the '80s icon.

Articulation is abundant, with 21 points. They are: balljoint shoulders, swivel biceps, hinge elbow, swivel wrist, balljoint hips, swivel thigh, hinged knees, swivel calf (at the boot), hinged ankles, swivel waist, hinged mid-torso, and balljointed head. All of it works pretty well, too, except for the excessive golden mane, which renders the head barely mobile.

Paint is also fairly nice. As always, most pieces are cast in a plastic that matches their predominant color, with paint only to accent the sculpt - but though the paint is minimal, it's still exactly what the 2002 line needed to really show off the sculpts. There is a gray-ish brown wash on the boots and loin cloth, the cape fur is painted off-white with a light spray of tan, and the skin is airbrushed with an oranger tan to accent all the musculature. Not great, but pretty solid. The gray/metal gets nothing so it's a good juxtaposition to the rest of the figure to see how much even subtle paint can improve a figure.

Grayskull has included with him all three of He-Man's trademark weapons - a circular shield, a battle axe and the Sword of Omens Power. And you know what? They're horrible. I love the Horsemen but come on! I don't care what kind of '80s aesthetic you're going for, these are just so plain and boring the figure looks better without them! They do have a two-shade color scheme, though, cast in gray plastic with a light metallic gray painted on the blades of both sword and axe, as well as the inset on the axe. The shield gets little splashes of red in its insets.

Mattel's Convention Exclusives are also well-known for their pointlessly elaborate packaging. Typically, it's yet another thing to complain about as I see double boxing, lights, sounds, and so on incredibly pointless and only as things that drive up the cost on my end, making me pay a premium for something that will end up in the attic, at best. However, I must confess that Mattel really won me over with Grayskull. Yes, he's double-boxed, but once you pull him out of outer box, you find a castle-y looking box, with two flaps on its side and a drawbridge on the front. Pull down the drawbridge and you'll find Grayskull as two blue LEDs flash and a booming voice shouts "I have the power!" It's very cool. At least the first few times and once you realize how to annoy your friends with it, but it quickly becomes infuriating as the box screams at you every single time the trigger-button is uncompressed.

Also in the outer box with a square piece that encircles the whole box and holds the two flaps to the inner box's sides. Once your ears stop bleeding, note that the flaps and are attached to the inner box by little tabs and that the square piece sports Castle Grayskull's signature skull front. Unlatch the tabs, and slide the square piece on top and voila - a cardboard replica of Castle Grayskull, complete with drawbridge, that stands about 16" tall and 16" wide, once the flaps are fully unfolded to become castle walls. Not only is it impressive in its simple but effective design and sheer size, but it provides a great backdrop for any MotU display, making incredibly elaborate packaging that actually serves a functional purpose! Good work, Frank Varela! Hopefully this is a trend Mattel will continue, perhaps offering us Snake Mountain, the Hall of Justice, the Fortress of Solitude or other such backdrops in future exclusives.

But, as with every Mattel exclusive, there are variants - which is incredibly "fun" since everything is blindboxed... and the variant is ever so cool. This time the variant is a "statue" version of King Grayskull, apparently inspired by the modern cartoon and sporting a bronze look. The booth's display case also teased us with a second variant, a translucent blue "Ghost of" Grayskull, but it was only given as gift to members of Mattel's Masters of the Universe team. Two were made available to the public: one raffled at SDCC, the other auctioned for charity later. But who cares, the bronze version is stunning!

If I've said it once, I've a thousand times: paint can make or break the figure. And the statue version is yet another incredible case in point of how simple paint work can take a solid sculpt and make it miraculous. Everything is identical to the standard Grayskull, except for that here he is cast in a very dark (almost chocolate-y) brown, with a heavy drybrush coat of bronze with a coppery-green wash to top it off. The effect is perfect - it's the most bronze-y looking figure I've ever seen. It puts to shame every other attempt (including NECA's own Bronze Conan from the same SDCC). I really can not say enough in praise of the Bronze version - it is just one of the coolest looking toys. So good is the paint, even the lame accessories look cool (further proving what a simple wash could bring the gray portion of Grayskull).

You may have previously been keen to my referring frequently to this figure as though it applied to the 2002 MotU line when, in fact, this figure is the first offering of the all new MotUC and it's nice in that regard, too. Enough sculptural difference to separate him from the new He-Man, including the use of the '02 chest symbol, to work as a predecessor, but it yet foreshadows an underwhelming line. Mattel/Horseman are drawing their inspiration directly from the 1980s figures and updating them just enough so that they aren't completely laughable... but sadly laughable they are.

As a figure, King Grayskull is fairly cool. As an exclusive/low-run character he's very cool (with the bronze variant being awesome). As an add-on to the 2002 Masters of the Universe toyline he's very welcome. But as the harbinger of an all new He-Man toyline? He doesn't have the power.

-- 11/17/08

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