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Masters of the Universe
by yo go re

Apparently there are some fans out there who believe that Mattel really cares about collectors, and wants to do everything it can to give us what we want, but that they are thwarted at every turn by retailers who cut the legs out from under them. To these fans, Mattel is a scrappy fighter for the underdog, a toy-making David facing off against mass-market Goliaths.

Yeah, a lot of people believe the moon landing was faked and that the Earth is flat, too, but that doesn't make them any less wrong.

No toy company does such a good job of driving its profits into the ground. Mattel screwed up their Batman line, they screwed up Harry Potter, they screwed up the DC Animated figures, and they even managed to screw up a sure-fire summer blockbuster hit in Batman Begins. Crimes, all, but not their first monumental mistake. No, the first thing they did after 20 years off the action figure radar was to screw up He-Man.

But proving that every Mattel spokesman who claimed that there was no fan support for He-Man was lying, the Masters of the Universe are back, this time in a different form and from a different company. Even before the toy line failed, the Four Horsemen were working with NECA to create a popular series of MotU busts. Once the toys were off the market, someone had a brainstorm: Mattel might still be squatting on the rights to make action figures, but NECA was free to make statues. Statues in whatever scale they felt like.

To keep the line alive in the hearts and minds of its fans, NECA has just started a line of 6" statues, in perfect scale with Mattel's figures. The first series has three characters, including Skeletor's biggest (and possibly dumbest) henchman, Clawful.

Skeletor may be the most evil and menacing force in all of Eternia, but let not his underlings go completely unappreciated. As far as the eye can see, the Eternian waters give host to many a bottom feeder, but none are as large or as mean as Clawful.

You have to give Skeletor credit - while most cartoon villains had generic cannon fodder minions, He-Man's evil uncle diversified, hiring just about anybody who came to him. You'd think he would have learned his lesson after taking in a retard like Beast Man, but no. Snake Mountain was a welcoming home to any who needed it.

It's fitting that Clawful is in the first series of MotU ministatues: the Four Horsemen have long said that Clawful was one of the first characters they sculpted for the revamped line, but he just sat around waiting for Mattel to get it in gear. Finally, after three years on a shelf, this crustacean behemoth is seeing the light of day.

Just because the sculpt is three years old doesn't mean it's showing its age. The new MotU figures already had wonderful detail, and that was in mass-market release - imagine how much better a specialty piece is going to look. The beauty of the Horsemen's take on He-Man and his associates was in the attention to detail, and Clawful is packed with it.

Clawful's head and shoulders have a scaly texture that fades as you move down his arms. His chest looks thicker than normal skin, and there's a great crab shell spreading across his back and shoulders. His belt buckle has a claw insignia, and (my personal favorite detail) the loincloth thing that hangs down the front of his skirt looks like a lobster tail. Awesome! His shell is scarred and pitted, evidence of many battles at Skeletor's side.

There are plenty of nods to the original figure beyond the asymmetrical claws. The horizontal ridges on his chest were originally on a piece of removable armor, and the bony lumps on his legs were a sought-after variant. His giant green club used to have a loop to help him hold it, because Mattel's old sculptors didn't care as much as the Horsemen do today. Even the paint is inspired by the 80s: the black-rimmed eyes and the tan limbs are taken directly from the old figure.

Mattel's figures always had disappointing paint apps, and NECA's statues do nothing but show them how things should have been done. The red of Clawful's head fades softly to the tan of his arms and back to red for the claws. A slight paint wash put some subtle shadows on his back and around his shoulders. The paint isn't free from mistakes - the teeth are a bit crooked, and the brown of his skirt spills onto his legs slightly - but it's nothing that should make you hesitate to buy this statue.

In NECA's underhanded bid to save the MotU line, some sacrifices had to be made. Okay, just one: articulation. The statues don't move, because if they did, they'd be figures and wouldn't fall under the auspices of NECA's license. Clawful's 7" tall and moves at the nothing. You can take the club out of his left claw, if you want: just pop the handle off and slip it through the appropriate space between the pincers.

Each of the Masters of the Universe figure-scale statues comes with a hexagonal display base. Actually, they all come with the same display base: a generic technological thing that's color-coded to the character's allegience. Skeletor's minions pose on a maroonish-purple base.

It may seem like a rip-off to pay $20 for what should have been a $6 toy, but if you're a MotU fan, it's really not - even when the line was out, finding new figures cost about that much. There's no poseability, but the detail in the sculpt is higher than what we'd get in a mass-market figure, and the paint apps serve the sculpt very well. There are no scale restrictions, so big characters are free to be big. Turning the Horsemen's hard work into in-scale statues was an innovative idea, and shows that yes, someone out there really does care about the fans - it's just not Mattel.

-- 07/27/05

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