REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS CHIEF CARNIVUS
Eternia must either be an anthropologist's dream, or maybe an evolutionist's nightmare. The sheer number of sentient and generally humanoid species on that planet boggles the mind. Mer-people, bee-people, bird-people, snake-people, skunk-people (!) -- And now, thanks to CHIEF CARNIVUS, we can add cat people to it.
Those wondering, "Who?" probably didn't pay much attention to the 2002 incarnation of Masters of the Universe, specifically the animated series, which is where Chief Carnivus debuted. He was never crafted as an action figure in the 2002-era line of Masters of the Universe action figures, but he has now been added to the Masters of the Universe Classics line-up.
There's a certain unintentional irony here, in my opinion. It wasn't too long after another toy license was announced to another company that Chief Carnivus was announced. That other toy license was ThunderCats, a very popular animated series in the 1980's that had a decent if not spectacular toy line from the now-defunct LJN. The ThunderCats basically haven't been heard from since, and I am certain I was not alone in hoping that Mattel might get the license. Clearly, between the Masters of the Universe Classics line, the Ghostbusters line, and the Retro-Action DC Super-Heroes line, the powers-that-be at Mattel have shown that they have an appreciation and respect for these legendary concepts. And who wouldn't have liked to have seen the Four Horsemen take on the ThunderCats? The same people who make the Masters and the DC Universe Classics would have turned out some truly amazing stuff here.
Alas, following the announcement of a new ThunderCats animated series, which I didn't even know about when I was hoping that Mattel might decide to do something with the natives of Thundera, the master toy license went to Bandai. Nothing against them. They turn out some cool toys. They're best known for Power Rangers and Ben 10 these days. But there's something about Bandai's products that tend to look a lot more -- toy-like -- than the Four Horsemen's work. Not that Bandai is incapable of turning out some amazing, highly-detailed, impressive product. For that, I give you Gundam, which enjoyed a healthy run for several years in the United States before returning to its original Japan. And Bandai has promised to produce a line of Classic ThunderCats along with toys based on the new series. They're capable of turning out figures as good as Mattel's best work. Whether they will or not remains to be seen.
But -- it was right after the announcement of Bandai's acquisition of the ThunderCats license, that Chief Carnivus was announced by Mattel -- which has certainly proven beyond any shadow of doubt that the Four Horsemen can create some very impressive feline humanoids.
Now, I'm sure this was largely coincidental. The Masters of the Universe Classics figures, like any action figure line, are planned well in advance. And I don't know if Mattel even had any designs on the ThunderCats, although given that the ferocious felines are largely under the Warner Brothers umbrella, same as DC Comics, you'd think that given the good working relationship with Mattel there, that there might have been some interest. But I really don't know. Ultimately, the timing of the announcement of Chief Carnivus with Bandai's announcement of ThunderCats is almost certainly coincidental. But, it's still pretty funny nevertheless.
But then the question arises -- why add Chief Carnivus at all? In the entire Masters of the Universe Classics line, only three other figures -- King Grayskull, Count Marzo and Zodak -- have been brought in specifically from the 2002 era. And Marzo arguably had some roots in the original animated series, even though he looked quite different, and Zodak can best be defined as a sufficient reinterpretation of the original Zodac character -- to say nothing of the spelling -- to warrant a separate figure in the Classics line, which has now done both versions. King Grayskull manages to get in with his ancestral history towards He-Man.
But Carnivus doesn't have any of those things, and even in the 2002 animated series, he was more or less a bit player. He wasn't a warrior, he was a ruler, a peer in his own way of King Randor and other regional rulers of Eternia. He wasn't likely to be out there kicking Skeletor's bony tail around alongside the other Masters. So how does Chief Carnivus rate?
Call it popularity. As soon as this Masters of the Universe Classics line got rolling, the two names from the 2002 era that I was nearing mentioned the most were Chief Carnivus and Count Marzo. The fans wanted these characters. Carnivus in particular had a very dynamic look to him, representing a type of sentient life that we had never seen on Eternia before, and we'd certainly seen plenty. Mattel had indicated that virtually all aspects of He-Man's universe were fair game -- original series, She-Ra, New Adventures, and the 2002 era. And we have, to date, seen representatives from all of them. And even though the Classics line take its (dare I say it) lion's share of cues from the original series, there's room for a few others to work their way in from time to time. I also think there's something to be said for Chief Carnivus presenting an interesting and dynamic look that presented the Four Horsemen design and sculpting team with a cool project -- bringing a character from the 2002 series into a figure form, something he'd never had before at all, into an action figure line that emphasized an earlier look.
As pleased as I am to have Count Marzo, I am of the opinion that the figure leans a little too heavily in some respects towards the 2002 design era, especially in the face and hair. He's not quite as good a fit alongside the others as he might've been. Still a cool figure, but I'm just saying.
Chief Carnivus, on the other hand, works out a lot better. If we operate on the established premise that the Masters of the Universe Classics line is an up-to-date, highly-detailed, highly-articulated incarnation of the popular Masters of the Universe line, taking most of its character appearance cues from the 1980's as much as anything, then in Chief Carnivus we have a Classics-style figure that takes a character from the 2002-era, who didn't even exist in the 1980's, and turns him into a Classics-style figure that looks like an up-to-date, highly-detailed, highly-articulated incarnation of that character, if he HAD existed in the 1980's, without sacrificing his 2002-era character design particulars. That couldn't have been easy, given the visual disparity between the two concepts.
So, how's the figure? Really amazing. The headsculpt, of course, really makes the character. Offhand, I don't recollect whether we got enough of a look at Carnivus' people to know whether they represented a broad range of cat-types, but clearly Carnivus himself takes more than a few cues from a lion. He is mostly ran in color, including his face, with a paler muzzle, a broad, dark nose, intense, bright green eyes with slit-like pupils, and most lion-like, he has long, thick brown hair. It's better groomed than the average lion, however, parted neatly in the middle, and with even a few braids here and there. His chin is also notably furry, although it retains the paler color of the rest of the muzzle.
Carnivus is wearing a gold headband, which shows in the front, and he has large, pointed ears to the sides of his head. The ears are not particularly feline in appearance, but they still look cool, and work well with the character. The hair was clearly molded as a separate piece and attached during assembly.
Chief Carnivus' face is not very human, even if the figure is on the whole humanoid. Certainly this isn't all that uncommon in the Masters of the Universe line. But he has a very feline muzzle rather than a conventional nose and mouth, and there are two sharp teeth jutting up from the lower jaw. It's funny, but from the front, Carnivus face looks pretty stern. Viewed slightly from the side, just given the way the muzzle is, it sort of looks like he's smiling.
The painted detail on Chief Carnivus' face has been very well done, although I do wish to point out that on the figure that I received, some tan paint had seeped down into part of his right eye, making him look like he was sort of half-asleep on that side. This was fixable for me, but then I have both the skill and the tools necessary to tend to this sort of thing, which in this case required a steady hand, a fine brush, some really bright green paint, and a very fine point black pen. I was able to tend to it, but there is something to be said for the fact that I should not have had to. I understand that nobody's perfect. At the same time, I can recall a time when quality control problems were rife in Mattel's other flagship action figure line -- DC Universe Classics -- and I have no desire to return to those days in either DC or Masters. In other words, let's be careful out there, shall we?
Portions of Chief Carnivus' body have been derived -- no great surprise here -- from the same "furry" body that's been used for Beast Man and Stratos. Some might be concerned that Carnivus' coloration, a tan-brown color, is too close to Beast Man's. Although it is close, Beast Man is distinctly more orange. Additionally, there is little resemblance beyond this, since Beast Man's accouterments are designed to make him look as if he's standing somewhat hunched over, which is definitely not the case with Carnivus. Moreover, Chief Carnivus is a more ornate figure than either Beast Man or Stratos.
The common part usage is restricted to the torso, upper legs, and arms to the wrists. Chief Carnivus has unique hands, whose fingers are nowhere near as strangely long as either Beast Man's or Stratos', but seem to be a more conventional length. Carnivus' loincloth lower torso is unique, with a remarkable cat-like belt buckle, and a length of "fabric" (molded flexible plastic) hanging down from the belt buckle almost to the knees.
Chief Carnivus' lower legs are very ornate, and use the same fancy boots as He-Ro. However, Carnivus' feet are bare, and are extremely cat-like in appearance, more like five-toed paws than anything. They're a brand new design. I'm not sure where else, if at all, they might see future use in the Masters of the Universe line. I'm impressed at the lengths Mattel went to in order to create this figure.
Along with the aforementioned belt and loincloth, Chief Carnivus is dressed in gold chest and shoulder armor. This is a separately molded piece, but I don't think it's removable, at least not easily, and I have no intention of trying. The shoulder pieces have dark purple sections within them, with raised red circular centers. This purple color also exists in detail sections on Carnivus' belt and boots. Chief Carnivus also has gold wristbands. These are a carryover from the Beast Man/Stratos molds, but they look good here.
Chief Carnivus is also wearing a red cape,with a circular gold "clasp" with a red center in the front. The cape is molded from plastic, is made to look very slightly ragged at the base, but not severely, and is very flexible. I also think that if one so desired, it would be fairly easily removable.
Chief Carnivus comes with two interesting accessories -- a sword and a shield. The sword is a fairly narrow blade, mostly straight, but with a distinct curve at the tip. It's not broad enough to be classified as a scimitar, but it is an interesting and unusual design. The hilt of the sword has two extensions out to the side, and a center red jewel. I've already made my ThunderCat comparisons for this review, so I'm not going to make any remarks about the Eye of Thundera. It's not really close enough for that.
Of somewhat greater interest is the shield. It's of average size and shape, mostly gold, with a purple center and a large, heavily ridged, cat-like face embossed on it. And I have heard a very interesting comparison made here to an earlier Masters of the Universe item, and after studying it for myself, I think that comparison may be legitimate.
During the run of the original toy line, there was one massive playset at one point that was called -- ETERNIA. Now, it didn't contain an entire planet. It was described as the "ultimate battleground", and consisted of three towers linked by a monorail system.
It was also possible to connect the set, which in and of itself was billed as the largest Masters of the Universe playset ever, to the separately sold Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain playsets. This has led to a little bit of controversy over the years, which I have heard here and there, as to "Which is bigger - Eternia or the U.S.S. Flagg Aircraft Carrier from G.I. Joe?" Well, with all due respect to Masters fans, and admitting a certain bias here, I've still got to give the award to the U.S.S. Flagg. Fully assembled, it is a single unit that is slightly over seven-and-a-half feet in length. Eternia is three towers connected by a monorail. Sorry, but in my book, that doesn't count. It's not a single unit, and it's certainly not a single unit if you have to get to that size range by connecting it to two other separate playsets. I'm not saying Eternia wasn't a cool playset. I'm sure it was. But for my money, it's not the largest ever.
But those three towers are interesting. One of the towers looks like part of an ancient castle, and is clearly designed to meld with Castle Grayskull, home of the Sorceress and the source of He-Man's power. Another of the towers has these snakes rising from the top of it, and is just as clearly designed to meld with Snake-Mountain, headquarters for Skeletor and his evil cronies.
Then there's the third, and based on the illustrations, central tower. Its architecture is unlike either of the other two towers, having a somewhat ridged look to it, generally cleaner lines, almost a futuristic appearance to it. And at its base is a massive, ridged cat's head, mouth wide open, presumably an entryway into -- well, wherever it might lead. It is unlike either Grayskull or Snake Mountain, and the appearance of the thing didn't really seem to fit any established character, location, or faction known on Eternia at the time. And the Masters of the Universe toy line wasn't especially big on backstories in the 1980's. My guess would be that someone just figured that since they had a "heroic" tower and a "villainous" tower, that a third tower unrelated to either of the others was needed, and there it was.
The symbol on Chief Carnivus' shield looks a WHOLE lot like the cat-head image from the Eternia playset. Many have said that it was deliberate, and I'm inclined to agree. Now, obviously, no one figured that 25 years ago when the Eternia playset came along that someone was going to come up with the Chief Carnivus character decades later and link him to this mystery tower, but I do think that putting the face on the shield, not at all inappropriate in and of itself given the feline nature of Carnivus himself, is a nice way of linking him in some way to the original series -- something that would have otherwise been extremely difficult.
Of course, Chief Carnivus is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid, torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.
His backstory is nicely outlined on the scroll-like "file card" on the back of his package, and it reads as follows:
CHIEF CARNIVUS - Heroic Feline Warrior
Leader of a race of Eternian cat warriors called Qadians, Carnivus keeps his people safe high in the village of Felis Qadi. For many years the Qadians kept a neutral stance, preferring not to get involved in the affairs of other tribes. But with the rise of Skeletor and the subsequent release of the Snake Men and the Horde from their interdimensional prisons, Carnivus agreed to re-evaluate his core principles and joined the struggle for freedom, allying himself and his people with King Randor's new Eternian Council. Carnivus uses his feline agility and great courage to fight against evil.
And that is a good summary of the character's main appearance in the 2002 animated series. Indeed, King Randor was very interested in establishing a new Eternian Council that would ally the various non-villainous factions of Eternia, with the growing threats mounting on every side. He was reasonably successful, as well. It's a shame that animated series didn't carry on a bit longer. But I'm not disappointed that the 2002 line, impressive as it was in its own right, made way for these amazing Classics figures.
There's just one other little issue that's nagging at the back of my head. Battle Cat. We know that he comes from a race of sentient felines. And yet he's not at all humanoid. He's entirely a tiger, entirely animal-like in appearance, albeit green. And then you've got chief Carnivus, clearly possessing strong feline traits, and yet he's largely humanoid. Apart from existing on the same planet, is there any significant relationship between Carnivus' people, and Battle Cat's?
Granted, I think we may be sailing too close to the Eternian version of that long-pondered question from the Disney universe, "If Pluto is a dog, what the heck is Goofy?" Maybe we'll leave that one to the philosophers -- or the anthropologists.
So what's my final word here? I'm extremely impressed. Anyone who thinks about passing on this particular figure because he wasn't part of the original Masters of the Universe line, or wasn't all that well established in the overall concept, or whatever, it missing out on a really great and distinctive figure. He fits well alongside the wide and varied life-forms of the other Masters, he looks cool in his own right, and has had a lot of time and effort put into him to make sure that he does fit well and looks cool, and the end result was certainly successful on all counts. I'm pleased to welcome Chief Carnivus into my Masters collection, and if you're any sort of fan, so will you be.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of CHIEF CARNIVUS definitely has my highest recommendation!