Masters of the Universe

There are certain things, certain ideas, that greatly appeal to me. They touch me in a way few other things do. They speak to my soul and capture my imagination, resonating with my deepest desires and thoughts, so much so that I begin to wonder if some cosmic power made them just for me.

One of these things is He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. And no, it’s not because the main protagonist is also called Adam. It’s not that I have a fascination with muscle-bound men or magic or swords. It’s not even the high cut of The Sorceress’ leotard that enraptures me so.

MotU_v3_2_by_JPRart

It’s the idea that a person can become something more than what he his, surpass his physical limitations and become something new and powerful and good. Holding aloft his sword, Adam cries to the heavens; “By the power of Grayskull!” and is transformed into the invincible He-Man, defender of Eternia. And invincible he is, a champion borne of kindness, courage and wisdom, protecting the weak and standing resolute against the forces of evil.

Rise_of_the_Snakemen_cover_by_JPRcolor

“My mother was a SAINT!”

Who doesn’t want that? There’s a hero inside of us all, and I guess I’ll never stop dreaming of the day a talking falcon will drop 60 kilos of steel in my lap and tell me to utter those magic words.

Anyway, what does this have to do with toys, I hear you ask? Quite a lot, really, although I may surprise you with what I’m about to say: I’m not talking about the 1980’s toyline. It was wonderful, and it inspired and enthralled a generation, but it was a product of the decade, and in that decade it should stay. No, I’m going to talk for a minute about its offspring; the 2002 Masters of the Universe.

Hold on to your chair, for I may surprise you again: they’re not all that great. But we’ll focus on the positive, first. The original He-Man toys were successful because they were cheap. They were cheap because there was a stock set of arms, legs and bodies that would be mixed and matched to create new characters. Although most toys had a unique feature or gimmick, they were largely created from the same molds as their brethren. For example, Zodak had Skeletor’s feet, Stratos’ chest, and He-Man’s arms.

The 2002 toys, in stark contrast, are all unique. Each character was sculpted by a group of artists known as the Four Horsemen, and they did a fantastic job. The toys feature a staggering amount of detail – you’ll need robotic eye implants just to take it all in. Tri-Clops knows a guy, he’ll sort you out.

They’re really rather wonderful to look at. To me, it feels as if the eccentric and varied MOTU characters of yore finally got the attention they deserved; these aren’t kitsch, quirky playthings – they’re works of art. But therein lies the problem with these toys. They’re statues. Although usually articulated at the hips and shoulders, the toys are sculpted in a particular pose. It almost seems that joints and articulation were added afterwards. Moving a limb more often than not causes the centre of gravity to change, and the toy falls over. It’s infuriating. Even when left in their default position, most of the toys just won’t stand. He-Man and his Masters spend an awful lot of time lying around on the job.

"Men DIED to bring you this photograph. Also, patio furniture."

Men died to bring you this photograph. Also, patio furniture.

Some of the gimmicks are obtrusive, too. Most of the toys have a spring-loaded limb that refuses to change position, and others have internal gears or mechanisms that inhibit movement, making them even more statuesque. While some of these features are essential to the character, (take Mekaneck’s extending neck for example) others are less so. The Cosmic Enforcer Zodak has a strange, permanent ‘finger-gun’ hand, his entire arm moving up and down at the behest of a huge lever in his back. I suppose they were going for “karate chop”, but in motion, it just looks silly. With no useful movement in his legs or waist, his only articulation is his left shoulder. But his helmet comes off, and that feature alone made me really happy for some reason.

I don’t really have space to talk about each and every figure, but I’ll give a brief summary of my favourites.

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Not visible: Zodak’s tramp stamp.

ROBOTO & ZODAK
Roboto is a robot, naturally. That’s his thing, that’s his shtick. He has an interchangeable hand, and sculpted jet boosters in the bottom of his feet. But what’s most interesting is that he has a heart in his chest. A golden heart. It seems to beat (or at least, jiggle around) when you rotate his waist.
Zodak is pretty awesome. He’s covered in glowing tattoos, evidence of his gnarly powers. He wears a skirt, but don’t let that fool you; he’s got it where it counts. Underneath his odd, bug-eyed helmet is the face of a man who’s seen some things.

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Trap Jaw turned to evil after the other Teletubbies made fun of his head-loop.

MANNY & TRAP JAW
Okay, so his name is Manny when he’s off-duty. His full moniker is “Man-E-Faces”. He’s an actor, you see, and entertains his friends by performing multiple roles in the Eternia Christmas Play. Akin to a theatre performer donning a mask, Manny takes it one step further and literally puts on a new face to switch personalities.
Trap Jaw is a nightmare. Apparently victim of some horrible accident, he’s sewn and stapled up like Frankenstein’s monster, and the parts they couldn’t find were replaced with metal. His arm is huge, and as you can see, the supporting armour and straps cover most of his torso to help him deal with the added weight. Still, he’s on the fast track to a slipped disc or hernia. I hope Skeletor has insurance.

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“I shound like Sean Connery, yesh. Watch the show, philishtines.”

TRI-CLOPS & STRATOS
Tri-Clops has three eyes, but can only look through one at a time. They swivel around his head like a carousel. He’s quite imposing, not nearly as goofy as his silly name implies. Although he seems liable to injure himself with that sword; a laser-shooting eye is great and all, but binocular depth perception is helpful when wielding a blade.
Stratos is more goofy than his name implies – he’s a monkey with wings. Wings on his wrists. He’s certainly something to look at, though. I enjoy having him around simply because he’s so ludicrous. He seems to have his own brand of armour – a stylised “S” is visible on his belt and hand grips. Trainers and tracksuits will be hitting stores soon.

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“Rargh! We get into the cinema on a single ticket!”

TWO-BAD & BUZZ-OFF
Two-Bad is two people in one. They used to be bounty hunters with worryingly-serendipitous names, until Skeletor cursed them to a fate worse than death by merging them together. They now spend their afternoons walking in circles and punching each other in the face.
Buzz-Off is a giant bee. He’s totally ripped, so must hit the bee gymnasium pretty hard. It’s difficult to build muscle when you have an exoskeleton, but he manages. Make fun of his compound goggle-eyes and he’ll tear you in half like a licorice whip.

Well, that’s all folks. Do we have time for a moral…? Yes, we do? Okay then. *clears throat*

In today’s episode, we all learned how much Adam loves He-Man. That might seem pretty silly, but you’re here reading a blog about old toys, so you’re probably pretty silly too. It’s the ability of humans to hold on to an idea, to find meaning and inspiration in stories, characters or even toys, that separates us from the animals. Earth animals, that is. Eternian animals sometimes talk. So don’t be so quick to let go of your fantasies or childhood aspirations; they’re a part of you and will shape your life, and who you become, in the future.

Til next time.

“Leotard that enraptures”

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