REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS DRAGON BLASTER SKELETOR
Skeletor returns once again in the Masters of the Universe Classics line from Mattel's online outlet, MattyCollector.Com. This time around, he's known as "Dragon Blaster Skeletor", for reasons which will become glaringly obvious, and just as significantly, this particular Skeletor comes with the third part, and need it be said, epic conclusion, to the three-part mini-comic story that's been presented in a couple of previous figures, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.
Let's consider the history of Skeletor, and then have a look at this particular version of him, and then the comic.
Known as "The Evil Lord of Destruction", Skeletor is the greatest threat to present-day Eternia. Depicted as a muscular bluish humanoid with a purple hood over his yellowish bare-bone skull, Skeletor seeks to conquer Castle Grayskull so he can learn its ancient secrets, which would make him unstoppable and enable him to conquer and rule all of Eternia.
In the original mini-comics, Skeletor is said to be an evil demon-like being from Eternia's sister planet Infinita. The Filmation series never really went much into his origins, or really much of anyone else's, except that he was at some point an apprentice to Hordak, once that character was introduced.
A later Mattel mini-comic implies that he was once Keldor, brother of King Randor (therefore, uncle of Prince Adam/He-Man -- and wouldn't that make family reunions a blast). The 2002 animated series confirms that Skeletor was once a man named Keldor, though no familial connection to Randor is ever openly established. Nevertheless in the audio commentary on the first volume it said that Keldor/Skeletor is indeed Randor's half-brother. Interesting relations given that Keldor was apparently a member of the blue-skinned Gar race.
The first mini-comics that accompanied the 1981–1983 line of Masters of the Universe toys present the earliest version of continuity and are fascinating for their many differences from the more widely-known continuity of the later Filmation cartoon and the later mini-comics which complement it. For example, there is no royal court of Eternia, King Randor, Queen Marlena, or Prince Adam. Instead, He-Man is depicted as the champion of a tribe of stone-age jungle-dwellers.
These very first mini-comics state that Skeletor was originally an inhabitant of another dimension, populated with others of "his kind". During the Great Wars, a hole was opened in the dimensional wall and Skeletor was thrown from his world into Eternia. Significantly different from the lonelier and entirely self-serving Skeletor of later depictions, the villain's key motivation in this first story is to reopen the rift between his world and Eternia, thus allowing Skeletor's race to invade and conquer Eternia alongside him.
However, as this first incarnation of the franchise's continuity was particularly short-lived, many questions about this version of Skeletor's origin are left unanswered.
In the mini-comics that followed the cancellation of the Filmation animated series, which can be seen as following on from the same continuity as the Filmation series, although there are still various contradictions, it is hinted that Skeletor is in fact Keldor, King Randor's long lost brother.
This inference occurs specifically in the 1986 mini-comic entitled "The Search for Keldor," a story that involves Prince Adam and Randor searching for Randor's lost brother Keldor. When Skeletor learns of their quest, he muses that "they must never discover the secret of Keldor," as the truth will lead to his destruction.
In this story King Randor announces that Keldor disappeared years ago. "He thought to master magic; when his experiments went wrong and he was lost in a dimension beyond time!" One of the few elements of Skeletor's back story that remains consistent throughout the various continuities is that he had come to Eternia from another dimension.
It is likely that Randor's statement about Keldor disappearing to another dimension is an attempt to reconcile Skeletor being He-Man's uncle with his extra-Eternian origins. To find out what happened to Keldor, Randor and the Sorceress attempt to peer through the dimensional veil.
Randor announces "I think I see Keldor… Or is it…" Before he can see anything else, Skeletor appears, determined to stop them from finding out any more. Although Skeletor is defeated, he is able to prevent Randor from discovering Keldor's fate.
Skeletor's frantic effort to cover up what happened to Keldor, combined with the fact that Keldor vanished to another dimension when attempting to become a master sorcerer, is taken as heavy inference that the two characters are indeed one and the same. Unfortunately, because the original toyline came to an end before the story could be resolved, it is never fully disclosed if this was officially intended to be the case.
Steven Grant, the writer of the minicomic in question, stated in a he-man.org interview that "As far as I remember, Keldor was Skeletor ... But, I don't think that was ever going to be revealed ... I seem to remember it as one of those things Mattel came up with out of the blue ... His back-story wasn't really worked out. Some sort of evil cosmic energies altered him. I think they were going for a Darth Vader thing. The main idea was that if they found out Skeletor was Keldor, they'd be able to find out what had changed him and might find some way to reverse it."
In the new continuity of the 2002 animated series, Skeletor's original name is definitely Keldor, his appearance as such is shown and his exploits partially depicted. However, the relationship to Randor is left unanswered, and he has Skeletor's blue skin and some other slightly nonhuman features while still Keldor. In a he-man.org interview with one of producers of the 2002 series, it is revealed that Keldor is the half brother of Randor; they have different mothers, and this has been carried over into the Classics toy line.
In this animated series, Skeletor was formerly a warlord known as Keldor who trained under Hordak. He gathered a small band of warriors to attack the Hall of Wisdom. They encountered resistance from Captain Randor and his officers; Keldor fought Randor personally, wielding two swords with astounding proficiency, but when Randor disarmed him, Keldor threw a vial of acid at him. Randor deflected it with his shield, and the acid splashed on Keldor's face.
Kronis, the future Trapjaw, called the retreat, and Evil-Lyn took Keldor to Hordak's sanctuary, where Keldor summoned Hordak to save his life. Keldor agreed to pay whatever price Hordak wished for his life, and Hordak transformed him, stripping the damaged tissues from his skull and dubbing him Skeletor; Keldor's head had been completely stripped of soft tissues, leaving only a floating skull. When Keldor saw his new appearance, he laughed maniacally; the incident perhaps shattering whatever sanity he had left.
Trapped in the Dark Hemisphere by the Mystic Wall, Skeletor designed a machine that would smash it, but it needed the Corodite Crystal as a power source. When Mer-Man retrieved it, Skeletor destroyed the Mystic Wall, and returned to menacing Eternia.
And that's about as clear as research gets on the matter. The Skeletor-Hordak connection was established in the original animated series, as well, when Hordak was introduced as the primary enemy of She-Ra, and based on the planet Etheria. At some point Hordak was Skeletor's superior, and he abandoned his "pupil" on Eternia after stealing the infant Adora from King Randor and his wife and leaving Skeletor to take the rap for it. Adora, of course, is Adam's sister, and would eventually become She-Ra.
Skeletor possesses an array of mystic powers that seem to vary depending on the whims of the particular writer using him at the time, however all portray him as an extremely powerful sorcerer with control over a vast range of dark magical powers. He also possesses considerable scientific skill, and is shown to have skill in creating various machines and devices.
He is usually armed with a magical weapon called the Havoc Staff; a long pole crowned with a ram's skull (and in some depictions, a crystal ball embedded within). He can discharge bolts of mystic force from the head of the staff, or use it as a focus for more powerful forms of magic.
So, how's the figure? Well, extremely impressive, but this is definitely one of the more oddball versions of Skeletor. He has this creepy little red dragon with purple scales and a mouthful of fangs that would likely scare off an entire gang of Rottweilers and pit bulls perched on his right shoulder.
I mean, I've heard of having a monkey on your back, but a dragon? Come on, already...
Skeletor and the dragon are also chained together, and there's no real way to undo the chain without ruining it. The chain, a real metal chain, I might add, and very nicely made, is linked to a collar and simulated lock around the dragon's neck, through a narrow slot on Skeletor's chestplate, and finally to a wristband on Skeletor's right wrist. Although this wristband is removable, there's no way to remove the chain from the wristband, and the wristband won't fit through the slot on the chestplate, so there's no real way for Skeletor and the dragon to part company.
Now, this figure is based on a 1980's version of Skeletor, and it didn't take me long to figure out, and I've since had it confirmed, that the original 1980's version of this figure had a squirting feature. The dragon could squirt water through its mouth. Really, how rude. Just what everyone wants perched on their back, right? A dragon that spits.
Dragon Blaster Skeletor was originally released as a counterpart to Thunder Punch He-Man, a figure that made it into the Classics line several months ago. The original Thunder Punch He-Man had the usual spring-action waist so he could throw a punch, but there was an added feature that involved caps, like those used in a cap gun, to make it sound as though He-Man's fists were striking with considerable impact. Needless to say, the Classics version doesn't possess this feature, anymore than Skeletor's dragon squirts this time around. It's only when absolutely necessary that special features like that are included anymore, such as Tri-Klops' visor, Man-E-Faces changing faces, or whatever.
Now, I do have to wonder who came up with this combination in the original line? Punching fists vs. a squirting dragon? My money's on the fists. Of course, within the realm of imagination, one could easily concoct a scenario where the dragon is spitting something a whole lot worse than water. That could even the odds real quick.
The Skeletor figure is reasonably straightforward. It uses the same headsculpt that most Skeletor figures have, which works well, and is a surprisingly accurate rendition of a human skull -- admittedly the green trim and the red in the eye sockets adds a certain -- personality to it. As usual, the purple hood covers just about everything except the face.
Skeletor's body is light blue, and he has his own distinctive "loincloth" with the segmented flaps in the front. His boots are somewhat different than usual. This Skeletor has the upper boots that I've seen used, oddly enough, on a couple of the Snake-Men figures. In addition, Skeletor's odd, three-toed feet are not bare, as they are in the standard version. They're colored the same color as the boots. This to me makes more sense. I don't care how odd your feet are, running across rough terrain in your bare feet isn't a fun experience.
Skeletor is wearing a chestplate and backplate that, for the most part, simply duplicates his own musculature. There's nothing all that ornate about it, except that it's bordered in bright red -- a new color for Skeletor -- and has a red slot in it through which the dragon's chain passes. The red trim has little red rivets sculpted into it. Overall, it's a nice design, just not quite as fancy as we're used to seeing from Skeletor.
Then there's the dragon. Counting his curved tail, he's about five inches in length. Nearly an inch of that is head, and two inches are the tail. The body of the dragon is compressed into a crouch, so he looks as though he's perched on Skeletor's shoulders by his front -- paws, feet, whatever you'd call them.
The dragon is mostly red in color, and extremely detailed. The entire dragon has an intricate scaled pattern that, once again, shows off the considerable sculpting skill of the Four Horsemen, the design team that creates these superb figures.
The dragon has some raised scales on the top of his head and down his back that have been painted purple in color. His eyes are black with yellow slits for pupils, the claws on his feet are purple, and his mouthful of very large teeth are white.
The teeth are so exaggerated that they almost made the dragon look cartoonish, but doubtless this is a reflection of the original figure. Still, one sort of wonders what use a set of choppers like this might be. I mean, yeah, you're not going to want to get too close to this critter. You'll lose a few fingers and worse. But what else could he be good for? Can opener? Paper shredder?
The dragon isn't really articulated except for the head. Skeletor, of course, is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, knees, boot tops, and ankles. Skeletor also comes with a sword as an accessory, presumably to fight in battle, or maybe just give the dragon a poke if he gets unruly.
Any complaints? Well, let's say I have a couple of relatively minor criticisms. One of them is strictly a personal note. I'm not fond of having to display action figures with their accessories. That's just me. I don't display my G.I. Joes with their rifles and backpacks, for example. Now, some people think that's a little silly. I call it saving space.
I feel the same way about other action figure lines. I wasn't all that happy when I realized that, in the DC Universe Classics line, Steppenwolf's axe was connected to a fixed backpack on his body. And when I discovered that Skeets was connected to Booster Gold via a transparent piece of plastic designed to look like a jet trail -- well, break out the X-Acto knife.
So here we have a dragon irrevocably connected to Skeletor. Okay -- this is hardly the only Skeletor figure in the line. I'll live with it. However, I do sort of wish that the dragon stayed put a little better. He's designed to be fitted onto a slot on Skeletor's back, but he doesn't really stay put all that well. He's also heavy enough so that he throws off Skeletor's balance. You have to lean him forward a bit to compensate, which makes it look like Skeletor's having back problems. Which, carrying a dragon around all day, he just might.
Then there's the other matter. I'd been hearing about it for a while, but I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. It seems that for some months now, Masters of the Universe Classics figures have been largely molded in black plastic, and then entirely painted. To be honest, I hadn't noticed -- and I'm rather embarrassed to admit that, because I generally notice that sort of thing. Mattel's factory is certainly due a lot of credit to the fact that I DIDN'T notice it -- until now.
However, between a couple of articulation points that were a bit stuck, and this one glob-glitch of paint on his upper left leg, I finally realized what everyone had been talking about.
Mattel is claiming that this was a "design choice". Most people seem to think it was a cost-saving measure -- although how much "cost-saving" was accomplished by having to put in the extra time and effort to entirely paint the figures, not to mention the cost of the paint itself, relative to just molding the figure in the proper colors to begin with -- I think that would be an interesting study.
However, Mattel has also stated that this practice will be ending in the near future, with a certain forthcoming figure. So, either this wasn't as economical as they thought it was, or the ruckus raised over it was a lot more than I was aware of.
Whichever the case, I'm pleased that this particular practice is ending, and I consider myself highly fortunate to have not encountered any noticeable problems until now, and that the problems on this particular figure are relatively minimal. I don't approve of the practice of entirely painting an action figure. I recall in some of the G.I. Joe figures that were sold in comic-three packs some years ago, the entire head of the figure was painted -- even though that head was molded in flesh tone. This was not only ridiculous and wasteful, but all it would take would be one little glitch of paint, and you end up with a figure who looks like he has a horrible skin condition on his face.
The same could have happened here. And, maybe it did with a figure that someone else received. In any case, I am thankful that I haven't had any major problems, but I certainly sympathize with those that have been raising a ruckus about it, and I'm pleased that this will soon end.
The scroll-like bio card for Dragon Blaster Skeletor reads as follows:
DRAGON BLASTER SKELETOR
As the ruler of Eternia following Randor's banishment, Skeletor created a new magical armor infused with an Eternian dragon, giving him the power to paralyze his enemies at first glance. His rule was cut short, however, when Skeletor's former master, Hordak, returned from Despondos, with the help of Evil-Lyn. Hordak not only overthrew Skeletor, but drove the Snake Men into hibernation. Forced into a war on multiple fronts, Skeletor continued to lead his Evil Warriors into battle, often having to fight side-by-side with his former enemies, the now renegade Masters of the Universe. Perched on his master's armor, the Evil Dragon "pet" of Skeletor stops his enemies cold with his paralyzing jet spray of venom.
Which would be a lot more effective than water!
There's two particular notes about the bio card. One references Hordak's return with the help of Evil-Lyn. This would have happened had the 2002 animated series continued for a third season. The other is Skeletor fighting alongside the Masters. This actually takes place in the third mini-comic, which comes with this figure.
However, Hordak's forced hibernation of the Snake-Men does not. In fact, he has allied with them against the Masters and Skeletor's forces. This, finally, is the Second Ultimate Battleground that we've heard rumors and vague details about on various bio cards for quite some time. And if it is not quite as involved or complex as one might have expected -- give them a break, they had all of eleven pages to work with here -- it is nevertheless a spectacular battle.
The story starts out with Skeletor allied with the Masters, which also include She-Ra and her friends from Etheria. Cut to a double-page spread of -- holy cow -- talk about your battle scenes. He-Man and She-Ra charging into battle, proclaiming "For Eternia!" "For Etheria", while Skeletor gets in the one funny line in the whole book, saying, "Yes, yes, what the simpleton siblings said..."
They're leading essentially all of their forces into battle, while Hordak and King Hssss stand on a ridge on the other side, sending all of THEIR forces into battle.
Now, I'll admit, I am not the expert on the Masters of the Universe characters, let alone the Princess of Power characters, that I am with some lines. If this was a G.I. Joe vs. Cobra battle, I'd probably be able to tell you the name of every player on the page. Here? I know MOST of them. Those that I don't -- yeah, it's making me a little bit nuts. Because I suspect some of them weren't ever produced as toys, but probably turned up in some episode of one of the animated series or mini-comics along the way that I just plain missed.
Like, who's the character in profile behind Clamp Champ? Who's the big gray dude on the bad-guys' side that looks like he's got antlers? Who's the skull-faced guy that's definitely NOT Skeletor? And -- you get the idea.
One thing is obvious -- there's still a LOT of figure potential in this line, and I hope we see it carried out.
The following double-page spread has even more action, and some of the same unknown characters (to me, anyway) from the previous pages, and a few others. I doubt there's a lot of characters on any of these pages that aren't there by intent.
And just when you think things can't get any more interesting, there's another double-page spread with the return of King Randor, someone I assume is King Miro, Chief Carnivus, Stratos, Buzz-Off, Zodac doing his best Metron impression, and some more unknowns.
Things get serious at this point. Man-At-Arms has been irrevocably transformed into a Snake-Man, Clamp Champ is left with no choice but to kill him. This is a transformation I just did not approve of, even though it was planned for the third season of the 2002 series. In the end, here in the comic, Man-At-Arms turns human once again, and tells Teela, the new Sorceress, how proud he is of her. It's pretty heartbreaking.
Orko -- of all people -- casts a spell that rather thoroughly undoes the Snake-Men, literally, surprising even Orko. Skeletor recovers his Havoc Staff, and then takes on Hordak, defeating him, but Hordak gets in a final shot with some sawblades from his chest, doing serious harm to Skeletor.
He-Man and She-Ra offer Skeletor aid, but Skeletor refuses, instead adapting the techno-organic virus in the Bionatops dinosaur creature that is present on the scene, repairing his injuries with bionics, and giving himself a new look that is definitely a take on his "New Adventures" incarnation. With that, he proclaims that, now possessing both his own powers and those of Hordak, that He-Man can have Eternia. He's going to head out and conquer the universe.
The final page, taking place "Later", reveals an Eternia at peace, but He-Man still frustrated that Skeletor is "out there" someplace, causing who knows what sort of trouble. Just then, a spacecraft arrives, piloted by Flipshot -- excuse me -- Icarius, and Hydron, begging for He-Man and She-Ra's assistance against a threat which has come to their planet -- a threat named Skeletor.
He-Man asks his sister if she's "in the mood for some new adventures" , and off they go to the stars. "New Adventures" -- indeed. Somebody call the Pun Police for that one. Still, I have to say that it does tie ALL of the continuities together about as well as one could expect, and really, this three-issue mini-comic mini-series finally revealed at least some of what's been hinted at for some time, and especially in light of the lack of any other current media presentations, except for a DC Comics mini-series that as of this writing is having some creative problems, was a real treat.
So, what's my final word? Okay, Dragon Blaster Skeletor is cool, if a little odd. That dragon on his back is definitely an unusual feature, and it's a pretty permanent part of him. And I'm glad to know we'll be seeing an end to the "painted black plastic" format in the near future. Still, I have no real complaints. It's an impressive figure, the dragon is a cool design, and it is an impressive modern take on a legitimate toy from the original line.
And the mini-comic included is certainly a worthwhile addition to the entire set. I sincerely believe that anyone who's been following the Masters of the Universe Classics line for a while will welcome both the figure and the mini-comic into their collection.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of DRAGON BLASTER SKELETOR (with the concluding mini-comic) definitely has my highest recommendation!