REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS DEMO-MAN
One of the recent additions to the Masters of the Universe Classics line, as of this writing, anyway, is a fellow by the name of Demo-Man.
Now, some of you who are perhaps on the periphery of Masters fandom, and perhaps even some of you who are closer to it, may at this moment be poring over some price guide based on the original line, and asking yourself the simple question -- "Who?"
And really, that's a pretty good question. You see, here's the thing about the Masters of the Universe Classics line. It can bring in characters from every aspect of the -- well, the Masters Universe. The original series. The New Adventures of He-Man. She Ra; Princess of Power. The 2002 series. Even the Filmation animation.
But more than that, it can incorporate characters who are, shall we say, somewhat more obscure, and a little less well-defined. Arguably one who was pretty well defined was He-Ro. He was intended to be a major player in the original line, just before it was canceled.
Then you have a character like Vikor. Technically, this figure is based on an early concept model for He-Man himself. Obviously, he can't really be He-Man, so the fine folks at Mattel wrote a new story around him in order to create him as a figure.
They did much the same thing with Wun-Dar. Here was a character whose presence even in the original line is somewhat open to debate. The story has it that Wonder Bread offered a mail-order He-Man figure with brown hair. Wonder Bread seems rather vague on the whole thing, but the character has become legendary enough, so that he was brought into the action figure line -- a brown-haired He-Man with a black Zodac vest, with a stylized version of a certain bakery emblem on the back of the vest.
And then we have Demo-Man. Now, the name has turned up before. We see it first mentioned in reference to the character of Keldor, later Skeletor. And here is where things get a little convoluted.
The original toy line, and for that matter, the original animated series from Filmation, was never overmuch concerned with origins and backgrounds. Once in a great while, something would come up. We would learn of the Sorceress' and Teela's connection along the way of the series. She-Ra received a full origin in the movie "Secret of the Sword", which revealed the fact that she was kidnapped as an infant by a combined effort on the part of Skeletor and Hordak. Hordak escaped to Etheria, but Skeletor, at that time Hordak's apprentice, was left behind.
The toy line dealt with none of this. Unlike several other popular toy lines of the day -- G.I. Joe, Transformers, MASK -- Masters of the Universe didn't opt for "file card" origins and histories on their packages. All we knew of Skeletor was that he was the "Lord of Destruction" and the main bad guy in the Masters' world.
Fast forward to 2002. There's a new toy line, and a new animated series, from Mike Young Productions. Although the toys still didn't offer any origins or backstories, the animated series was another matter entirely. Here we learned that Skeletor was once Keldor, a relatively normal-looking chap except for the blue skin. We also learned that somehow, he was the half-brother of Randor, the father of Prince Adam, better known as He-Man.
And you thought YOUR family reunions were awkward...
During the course of a battle instigated by Keldor in an attempt to take control of the throne of Eternia, a vial of acid was spilled fully into Keldor's face. Possibly mortally wounded, Keldor fled in the company of Evil-Lyn, who led the horribly injured Keldor to a place where she could open a limited access point to the dimension of Despondos, where Hordak was imprisoned, and begged for his help to save Keldor's life.
Hordak complied, and healed Keldor through some largely unexplained mystic means. But Hordak was either unable or perhaps unwilling to completely heal Keldor. His head remained seared of all skin and hair, a bare skull atop Keldor's body. He was alive, but imagine having to look at that in the mirror every morning. Thus Skeletor was born.
And so we come to the present day. I'll write out Demo-Man's full bio card later in this review, but in the revised tale, while most of the details remain the same, Hordak saved Keldor's life by merging him with a being from the realm of Despondos known as -- Demo-Man. Which might at least go some way to explain where Skeletor picked up those funky three-toed feet with the clawed toenails.
So, who is this Demo-Man? Is he someone that was just thought up out of the blue for the purposes of producing another figure and making Skeletor's origin more complex than it already was? Well -- no, not quite.
Here the information is a little more speculative, but it's hardly the only time I'll have to do this in order to try to properly explain this character. Remember Vikor? He was based on the original, early designs for He-Man. Clearly, in its pre-toy infancy, the Masters of the Universe toy line was going to be a good bit more -- Barbaric? Primitive? Medieval? -- anyway, something along those lines, to where He-Man would have initially looked like a viking version of Conan the Barbarian.
So where does Demo-Man fit into this? In the earliest concept designs for the line, Demo-Man would've been the main bad guy. Just as Vikor was an early design for He-Man, Demo-Man should be regarded as an early design for Skeletor. A really early design, need it be said.
Now, I really don't mind at all having figures of unusual characters like this. At the same time, I'm just as glad that one of the reported new characters coming up in the 30th Anniversary line is a time traveler, because I think it's going to take one to sort this out at some point.
So, how's the figure? Well, he's green. He's bright green. He's really, really, really bright green. How green is he? I compared him to some of my other distinctly green or green-uniformed action figure items.
DC Universe Classics Riddler? Not even close. G.I. Joe Sci-Fi? Not really, although the 1986 version is a bit closer than the 2011 version. DC Universe Classics Martian Manhunter? Nope.
Demo-Man is the type of green that makes me wish I still owned an ultra-violet "black" light so I could see how much he'd glow under it. He's THAT green.
Would this have been the color pattern for the original figure, had Demo-Man been produced in the 1980's? Honestly, I don't know. If it was, he certainly would have been hard to miss on the toy shelves! However, if the black-and-white sketch used for Demo-Man's bio card on the back of his package is any indication, it's entirely possible that Demo-Man never got any further than a few concept studies -- sans color -- before being developed into or replaced by Skeletor.
So, why make this guy so green? I think I know. If one looks at the Skeletor figures, either the original or the modern versions, Skeletor's skull has a distinct shade of green around its perimeter, before turning into a somewhat scattered and somewhat more bone-like yellow. The Filmation series ignored this, since it would have been too hard to animate given the techniques of the time, and simply gave Skeletor a bone-like yellow skull for a head. But the toys have never ignored this feature.
The question is thus asked, where did it come from? Knowing what we know about Skeletor's pre-Demo-Man origin, it probably could have been explained as either this being the natural coloration of the bones of Keldor's people, although that seems a tad unlikely, or perhaps it was a side effect from either the acid, or Hordak's mystics, which seems more likely.
We now have a far more obvious explanation, in that Skeletor's head obviously picked up a certain amount of Demo-Man's coloration in the course of the merge between the two beings.
Let us consider the head sculpt, for there are several matters to be brought up here. For starters, it doesn't look very much like Skeletor at all. The head more resembles some sort of barely human troll or ogre, I suppose. The closest thing to Skeletor-like features we see on Demo-Man is an upturned nose that seems rather cut off, and teeth that protrude outside of the mouth.
The rest of the head is not at all skull-like. Demo-Man has a pronounced brow, deepset red eyes, pointed ears, three bony spikes over the top of his head, a wispy bit of hair in the back, and a long stringy beard in the front -- with a bone tied into it at the end. I initially thought it was some sort of bow-tie (I wasn't the only one), until I realized that was just a little too cutesy for a character like this and took a closer look. He's also wearing -- I suppose you'd call it a crown, around the top of his head, a silver band with a series of red oval jewels in the front.
The other thing to note about the head is that it's a bit uneven in some respects. The left ear is nowhere near as pronounced as the right ear, and the right eye and brow are larger than the left. This honestly concerned me. The Four Horsemen, who handle the design and sculpting for this line, as well as others for Mattel, are most certainly and categorically NOT known for sloppiness. I couldn't quite imagine that the Four Horsemen would pull some sort of "rush job" on a new figure's head, but what was the explanation?
A fellow collector directed me to the illustration on the back of the package. Now, one might assume that, as this was a concept sketch, the artist was perhaps not entirely as precise as he might normally be. Or I suppose it's possible that the artist intended for Demo-Man to have this slightly uneven look. Whatever the case, sure enough, on the sketch, Demo-Man's left ear isn't as prominent as his right, and his right eye is slightly larger than his left.
On the one hand, I think the Horsemen should be commended for adhering this closely to the only known source material for this character. On the other hand, a big part of me sort of wishes they hadn't been quite this precise, and evened things up a bit more.
The human face, for the most part, is reasonably symmetrical. Unless a person has suffered some sort of horrible accident, or some sort of birth defect, any variances in a basically symmetrical appearance are usually minimal to the point of being unnoticeable.
For that matter, look throughout the animal kingdom, and largely regardless of species, you'll find symmetrical faces -- assuming the species in question has a face.
This is what the human mind and the human eye is used to. Arguably one of the most extreme cases of facial asymmetry in the pop culture world would be the Batman villain known as Two-Face, who had the left side of his face horribly scarred from acid (seems to be a trend here, doesn't it...). However, Two-Face's variance is so extreme, as well as crucial to the character, that we tend to be more accepting of it.
This isn't the case with Demo-Man. The two sides of his face are reasonably similar. They're just a little bit off, and to the human eye and the human mind, it's somehow just not quite "right". I'm not criticizing the quality of the sculpt. It's an excellent representation of the character, rendered in three-dimensional plastic by the most skilled hands in the business. And I'm prepared to accept the notion that maybe, back in Despondos, this is really what Demo-Man's people -- if there are any others like him -- or at least he himself legitimately looks like. I mean, let's face it, Despondos isn't Disneyland. It's not a nice place. It's going to churn out some creepy characters. Still, I find myself, just a little, questioning the decision to do the headsculpt like this.
Demo-Man's entire body is this really bright shade of green. However, it has had some airbrush detailing sprayed over the musculature in a slightly darker shade. I have to say, that while sometimes I don't approve of this sort of thing -- since it can backfire and just stink up an otherwise very decent figure -- in this case, it works. Demo-Man's skin is so bright, that it looks as though it should be reflecting more light, making the "shadowed" regions seem that much darker. Like I said, it works.
For the most part, Demo-Man uses standard body parts, although his lower arms show a certain amount of "body hair", but not on a level of a character like Beast Man or Stratos. The feet are exceptionally odd, and only add to the mystery of Skeletor's three-toed feet. The Keldor figure from this line is wearing standard boots. While there's no proof as such, I think it's reasonable to assume his feet were fairly normal. Demo-Man's feet have larger and longer toes than average, but he has FOUR toes. So how in the course of the merger between Keldor and Demo-Man did Skeletor end up with three toes?
Demo-Man is dressed, much like his "contemporary" Vikor, rather primitively. He has a short loincloth around his waist, but it's not of the "furry" variety common to many of the Masters figures. He is wearing a short, brown, sleeveless tunic over his torso. Both the tunic and loincloth are clearly designed to look like some sort of rough leather.
Demo-Man has an armband around his right arm, that clearly shows a more primitive form of metallurgy than is common on Eternia. He is also wearing heavily spiked wristbands, which clearly show that you don't want this guy to belt you over the head. Additionally, he has several bands of rather haphazardly placed armor over his shoulders. Several of them are linked by a gold chain, but suffice to say this guy isn't really a contender for "Best Dressed" -- much of anything.
The one mystery about his wardrobe is a little green tuft molded to the armor near the back of the left shoulder. Apart from possibly representing body hair (ouch!) I have no idea what this might be.
Of course, the figure is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
Demo-Man comes with several accessories, but more significantly, he comes with two additional heads. One of these looks more like a helmet. It's the upper part of a skull, sort of a "buried in the dirt for fifty years" brown, wearing a silver viking-like helmet with black horns. No lower jaw, and it's rather small, but it is a secondary head. And it's a creepy one.
The other head is designed to look like the early artistic interpretations of Skeletor. And brother, if you want creepy. Compare it to the existing Classics Skeletor. The eyes are larger, as is the nasal passage, and the teeth are far more pronounced, and distinctly haphazard. This is the sort of thing that would send Mo-Larr into early retirement. Compared to this, the standard Skeletor looks downright friendly.
Demo-Man's weapons consist of a large, scimitar-like sword, and a large spiked mace on a curved length of thick cable. Both accessories have been designed to look as though they've seen significant use.
Now, at last, we come to Demo-Man's bio card. It reads as follows:
Realizing his pupil Skeletor had no intention of releasing him from Despondos, Hordak merged him with an extra-dimensional being called Demo-Man. While this saved Keldor's life, it also drove him temporarily insane and convinced him to open a portal to Despondos, and lead what he thought were "his people" into Eternia. Hordak intended to use this ruse as a means to escape once the portal was opened, but the new merged being "Skeletor" was quickly defeated by Oo-larr, the Jungle He-Man, and Hordak remained trapped. Soon after, with the help of Evil-Lyn, Skeletor gained control of the powerful spirit inside of him, increasing his abilities ten-fold. He was now the true Overlord of Evil, and one of the most dangerous men on Eternia.
Now, most of this plays out in accordance with events as shown in the 2002-era animated series, with the exception of the addition of Demo-Man. But there are two other points that need to be addressed.
First of all is this reference to Skeletor planning to open a portal to Despondos to let "his people" into Eternia. As I understand it, this is something of a reference to something mentioned in the earliest of the mini-comics that were included with the toys, before the continuity of the animated series took greater hold. In those early days, Skeletor was portrayed as a member of an entire face of skull-faced beings. I have to say, I like the explanation. It manages to reference it, while also explaining it away as a delusion of Skeletor's, which is really about all you can do with it, since it certainly doesn't otherwise fit the continuity.
Finally, there is the matter of Oo-larr, this so-called "Jungle He-Man". I've never read many of the mini-comics, but a few of the early ones that I've seen present an Eternia that is distinctly more primitive than the one we see in the Filmation series. There's a lot more green, a lot more wilderness. I'm honestly not sure where this "Oo-larr" name comes from, but Mattel has trademarked it, and I suspect it's a reference to how He-Man was portrayed in those earliest comics, which was arguably somewhere between the character we currently know as Vikor, and the modern He-Man.
I'll just say this -- this isn't the first time this Oo-larr name has come up, and I rather wish that if Mattel has plans to make a figure of this character, they'd get around to it already.
So, what's my final word here? I'm impressed. Granted, Demo-Man is an obscure character, whose history is not the easiest to fit into the Masters' universe. It could readily be argued that he's been sort of forcibly sandwiched into Skeletor's established origin, but I don't think disagreeably so. Honestly, the continuity of the Masters' universe seems to be open to some interpretation at the moment, pulling in characters from a variety of sources and doing the best job possible to make them work, moreso in light of the fact that there is no current media presentation for the line to expound on things.
The figure's asymmetrical head takes a little getting used to, and I really rather hope that we don't have any more "artistic interpretation" figures in this line, but I can accept that. Overall, Demo-Man is as superbly crafted a figure as everyone else in the Masters line, and I am sure will be a welcome addition to any collection.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of DEMO-MAN definitely has my highest recommendation!