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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS two-pack of ETERNIAN PALACE GUARDS
By Thomas Wheeler

Can one man protect an entire kingdom? Well, probably not. Even if that man happens to be MAN-AT-ARMS, a loyal member of the court of King Randor, ruler of the forces of good on the planet Eternia.

Okay -- there are other heroic warriors, certainly. But He-Man can't be on hand all the time. Prince Adam has to turn up once in a while, or people are going to get suspicious. The long history of the Masters has also shown that other heroic characters, such as Stratos, Buzz-Off, Chief Carnivus, and others, have their own specific realms over which they watch. They can't all be hanging around Randor's Palace all the time.

And, for that matter, not every threat to the kingdom is likely to require the presence of such powerful beings. If Skeletor marshals his forces and stages an all-out assault on Randor's kingdom, well, then, yes, you want as much firepower as you can possibly muster against that. But if two ill-minded youths are stealing fruit from a produce stand in the Castle Square, it's sort of overkill to have Stratos swoop down from on high, or have Battle Cat show up and make the youths think that they're likely to be green tiger lunch. Amusing, maybe, but still overkill.

Now, in an action figure line such as the original MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, such considerations don't need to be part of the matter. The action figures can readily emphasize the major individual players in the concept and leave it at that, which is precisely what the action figure line did.

But the animated series, by definition, has to look at a larger picture. It's not just showcasing individual action figures on their packages. The characters represented by the action figures must be placed with an environment in which they can function. And one must assume that they're not going to be the only ones in that environment.

I cannot think of a single animated concept, based on a toy line, that strictly showed only the characters that were produced in the toy line. ThunderCats came close, but not quite. G.I. Joe -- civilians all over the place. Transformers -- no shortage of humans around, and when we saw Cybertron, it was clearly populated well beyond the robots found in the toy stores. Visionaries -- twelve knights, with their respective kingdoms. Leoric might have wished that some of the citizens of New Valarak weren't around -- especially the ones that wanted to start up a Garden Club -- but there were plenty of civilian types to be seen.

And in the Masters of the Universe animated series, it was certainly evident that Eternia was a well-populated world. The diversity of life on that planet never ceases to amaze me, even though a large percentage of it, perhaps especially around Randor's Palace, was generally human. The planet was hardly exclusively human, and its population was most certainly not limited to those characters who could be found in the aisles of Toys "R" Us.

So -- who took care of the basic business of policing the place? Who would, when there was a call to arms from Man-At-Arms, gladly rise to at the very least, assist in the battle against Skeletor and other evil forces threatening Randor's kingdom, aiding through sheer number their strength to the forces of good?

Enter the ETERNIAN PALACE GUARD. These stalwart chaps were most often portrayed as uniformed soldiers, wearing uniforms that looked like simplified versions of Man-At-Arms' outfit. It made sense. The man was a warrior in his own right, close associate to the king, and had himself served in the Eternian Guard for a long time. By the time of the adventures of the animated series, he was largely in charge of it, too.

The average Eternian Guard wore a green uniform, much like Man-At-Arms' own, with a similar, if somewhat less detailed helmet, and more limited and less ornate body armor. Based on my recollection of the show, they were all human.

There was never an Eternian Guard figure in the original Masters of the Universe line. The only real "army-builder" in the original line was the Horde Trooper, a robotic fellow that looked as much as anything like a cross between a Cylon and a Clone Trooper, and had the rather unusual action feature of self-destructing -- a reflection of how many of the things She-Ra and her companions sent to the junkpile over the course of her series.

The Eternian Guards returned in the 2002-era animated series. While they were somewhat more ornate in appearance -- heck, who wasn't in that series? They served much the same purpose as they had in the original Masters of the Universe series, although they also seemed to be a bit more -- intense and gung-ho. Again, frankly, so was the series as a whole.

The Eternian Guards even turned up in the rather short-lived comic book of the 2002-era, which was able to get away with some things that the animated series couldn't. This resulted in a number of Eternian Guards meeting the sort of unpleasant fates normally reserved for "red-shirts" from Star Trek. Although arguably, these guys are probably the Masters equivalent of that, anyway.

And still -- no figures.

Now, we have the Masters of the Universe Classics line. In my opinion, the finest iteration of the Masters of the Universe concept ever rendered in plastic. There's no specific animated series tied into it, even though any number of these figures look like they stepped right out of the Filmation days. There's no comic book. But -- we finally have ETERNIAN PALACE GUARD figures!

Mattel has made available a special two-pack of Eternian Palace Guards, part of their monthly offerings on MattyCollector.Com.

As packaged, the figures include one Caucasian Eternian Palace Guard, and one African-American Palace Guard. There are two other options, which I will get to over the course of this review.

Both figures are nearly identically outfitted. Both are very heavily armored, even moreso than Man-At-Arms. Both Eternian Palace Guards are wearing blue helmets, with orange painted trim, that are nearly identical to Man-At-Arms' own. His helmet has a few more details on it, and a few more of those details are distinctly painted.

The Eternian Guards are dressed in olive green uniforms that are very slightly lighter than Man-At-Arms' own. I'm assuming this was intentional. They have extensive armor pieces attached to them, that are orange in color, again, very slightly lighter than the armor worn by Man-At-Arms.

Like Man-At-Arms, they have light blue wristbands, light blue belts, and darn greenish-brown furry loincloths. The center oval on Man-At-Arms' belt is painted red, whereas it is painted light blue like the rest of the belt trim on the two Eternian Guards.

The biggest difference between the Eternian Guards and Man-At-Arms is the boots. Man-At-Arms has the conventional "furry-top" boots with the wraparound straps. These boots are the same color as the loincloth. Conversely, the Eternian Guards have smooth-featured orange boots, which look more armored and protective, honestly.

Speaking of armor -- Man-At-Arms wears a highly complex armored chestplate and backplate that is clearly reflective of his inventing tendencies. It has fur around the arms, a ridged shield protecting his lower face, some sort of small tank on the chestplate with a hose running to the face shield, assorted wires and doo-dads, and on the back, holsters for several weapons, as well as other equipment, which is molded on and painted, but should still be regarded as present and accounted for.

The armor of the Eternian Guards, I think it would fair to say, is the "off the rack" version of Eternian battle armor, versus Man-At-Arms "tailor made" edition. The front has a large chest shield, which has several available versions. This works much like the chest segments that came with Battle Armor He-Man. Since it was impossible to reproduce the rotating chest shield effect of the original, Mattel made it possible to remove the chest armor, and snap in a chestplate from behind, representing either a clean chestplate, or several stages of battle damage.

In the case of the Eternian Guards, the Caucasian Guard is wearing a chestplate that has a sculpted image of an eagle on it, which has been painted a metallic orange-gold. The African-American Guard is wearing a chestplate that has several raised ridges on it, that match the two ridges of the main armor closer to the abdomen, and has a large dented gash in it from a recent battle. There are two additional chest pieces that can be installed, one with two large gashes in it, and one that is clean, with just the raised ridges on it.

Man-At-Arms wears protective armor on his left arm, and lower left leg. The Eternian Guards wear protective armor on both arms, and both lower legs. This might seem to make the Eternian Guards more powerful or more ornate than Man-At-Arms, which initially doesn't seem to make much sense given that Man-At-Arms is their commanding officer. But then again, how much footage of military battles have any of us seen on The History Channel or whatever, where the generals are walking around in suits and ties, and maybe a helmet if there's a risk of them getting shot, while the soldiers are lugging around fifty pounds of assorted equipment however they can manage. Man-At-Arms is not going to be be afraid to take to the battlefield. But the Eternian Guards are still going to be the front line, and deserve as much protection as they can get.

Not surprising, the left arm and left leg armor of the Eternian Guards uses precisely the same pieces that were used for Man-At-Arms. However, these armor pieces are not perfectly symmetrical to themselves. There's enough little squiggles of detail on them so that, from a perfectionist's nit-picky point of view, they couldn't really just be swapped over to the right arms and right legs. And never let it be said that the design and sculpting team of the Four Horsemen were anything but precise.

As such, entirely new armor pieces for the right arms and right legs were created, matching the basic designs of the left arm and left leg pieces created quite some time ago for Man-At-Arms. Interestingly, there are a few slight differences. The restraining strap on the right arm piece is somewhat lower than on the left arm piece. The snap-buckle on the strap for the right leg piece is centered on the strap. It's to one end of the strap on the left leg. These are relatively negligible differences, and I'm certainly not complaining. Actually, I find it rather interesting overall.

The all-encompassing armor does have the effect of making it rather difficult for the Eternian Guards to lower their arms all the way. Honestly, they both look like they're in a sort of permanent flex. And while it's been a while since I've watched the Filmation series, I really don't recall the Palace Guard being quite this armored. Fortunately, for those desiring a somewhat less-armored Guard, any of the armor pieces are easily removable. This makes for a rather interesting point of a couple of toys clearly earmarked for the "Adult Collector" (says so right on the box) having an unusual level of play value that would probably appeal to a kid.

Paint work is excellent on these figures, and can especially be noted in the amount of tiny detailing on the armor pieces that has been painted, right down to small rivets and such. The faces are similarly neatly painted. And now, we really need to discuss the faces. Because there's more than two of them.

The Caucasian face, right off the bat, seems to have more personality to it than one would expect from a figure that at first consideration is supposed to be a generic soldier. Well, it turns out he's not quite as generic as we think. The figure's face has been crafted to resemble that of Scott Neitlich, Mattel's manager of not only Masters of the Universe Classics, but also DC Universe Classics, and other such brands that set collectors scrambling for display space in their homes. Mr. Neitlich is a longtime Masters fan, as will be further evidenced when we get around to the "file card" for the Eternian Guards. And hey, if you're in charge of an action figure line, why not put yourself into it if you can.

The African-American head is somewhat more generic looking, and as far as I know isn't based on anybody in particular. It's still an excellent sculpt, with well-defined features, and an excellent paint job. I keep thinking he looked a little like several professional wrestlers that I've seen over the years, but really, I'm not sure if it's the face, or the flex-pose of the armored body that's making me think that.

The Eternian Palace Guards come with two additional heads, that can be swapped out. This, doubtless, has made some collectors want to pick up two sets of the Eternian Guards, just so they can have all four Palace Guards possible on duty at all times. Certainly there's no reason you can't do this if you can afford to. I wish I'd been able to at the time. The head swap is relatively easy, as both figures have heads that are on a ball-and-socket mount. I do recommend some caution in swapping them around, however, just so you don't break the articulation joint.

Interestingly, the other two heads are entirely non-human. To the best of my knowledge, I do not recall any non-human Palace Guards in either the original Filmation animated series, or the 2002 animated series. Granted my memory is a little hazy on both of them, so I could be mistaken. It's interesting, nevertheless.

One of the two heads is distinctly feline in appearance, with a cat-like muzzle, very cat-like green eyes, with a slit-like pupil in the middle, and sculpted fur, painted brown. It also has a black nose. This could easily be one of Chief Carnivus' cat-people, although no such implication is specifically made.

The other head is even more interesting. The face is clearly reptilian, but not specifically snake-like like most of the reptilian types encountered in the Masters of the Universe world. This isn't one of the Snake-Men, in other words. If anything, the facial structure looks somewhat like a turtle to me. The face has something of a muzzle, with a high, pushed-up nose. The entire face is distinctly scaly, with a fairly prominent brow, and red, pupil-less eyes. Honestly, I haven't the slightest idea what Eternian race this head may represent, if it's even one we've ever encountered before. The skin color is green with significant amounts of tannish-gold, almost suggesting a chameleon-like capability.

Both heads are wearing helmets identical to those worn by the two human heads. In fact, I believe that the helmets and faces for all four heads were molded separately, and the appropriate faces secured into the helmets during assembly.

The Eternian Palace Guards have no shortage of accessories. Starting off, there's protective face-shields, something else I don't recall Eternian Guards having. These snap into place via two tabs on the sides of the helmet, which is another small way in which these helmets differ from Man-At-Arms'.

And how well is a soldier going to fight without weapons? And what sort of commander would Man-At-Arms be if he didn't provide arms (!) for his soldiers? Both Eternian Palace Guards have heavy circular shields, molded in plastic, nicely detailed, slightly less than 2" in diameter, that can clip to their arms. There are also two long axes, fairly ornate in appearance with fancy curved blades, on 7" handles. These are probably ceremonial as much as anything, but just try making a move against King Randor and find out the hard way how functional a ceremonial weapon can be in the hands of trained personnel...!

There's also a shorter axe, somewhat decorative, but still definitely intended for direct battle, and an ornate but definitely functional-looking club. These are also molded in silver. There are two clips on the back of the armor for the Eternian Palace Guards, that can accommodate the club and both axes -- maximum of two weapons at a time -- and honestly, the long axe looks a little silly back there.

Articulation of the figures is, of course, superb. Both are fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, lower leg swivel at the boot top, and ankles. The armor is somewhat of a hindrance to some of these, but everything still works. I am especially impressed with the fact that all of the articulation points on both figures is nice and tight, without being stuck. Some Masters of the Universe Classics figures have, from time to time, had loose articulation points here and there, the most common being somewhat floppy feet. I can report no problems whatsoever with these Eternian Palace Guards, and I hope it's a trend.

Let's consider the character bio on the back of the package. Presented on a scroll-like "bio card", it reads as follows:

ETERNIAN PALACE GUARDS - Heroic Guards
REAL NAME: VARIES

From across the Light Hemisphere of Eternia, the bravest and most noble warriors on Randor's Kingdom were recruited by Man-At-Arms and later Clamp Champ to help guard the Royal Family. Often called upon to aid the Masters of the Universe, the royal guards are trained in multiple forms of hand-to-hand combat and are masters of many weapons including the Power Staff and several types of Energy Blasters. Whenever the Royal Palace is threatened, it is the strength of the elite guardians which often repels evil. Brave Palace Guards like Lieutenant Spector defend the Royal Family from attack.

Wow -- that almost read like a G.I. Joe file card. There are several points that should be mentioned, however.

First off, that initial remark about "from across the Light Hemisphere of Eternia" is probably a good explanation for the two non-human heads in this set. Next up -- how the heck did Clamp Champ get in here? There hasn't been a figure of him -- yet, anyway. He just missed out on the 2002 line. But I wasn't aware that the character had any direct affiliation with the Eternian Royal Guard!

Then there's this Lieutenant Spector. I thought -- who? I mean, there's even a "TM" after his name. Had I missed someone? Well, fortunately, a friend of mine who is more knowledgeable about the history of the Masters answered this one for me. It seems that Scott Neitlich's enjoyment of the Masters goes back further than I realized. If you'll recall, back in the mid-1980's, there was a contest by Mattel, for kids to create a new Masters of the Universe character, that would be made as a figure. Kids were encouraged to come up with a likeness of the character, a name, and an explanation of that character's powers.

The winner of the contest was a character who went by the name of Fearless Photog. He had a camera for a head, and could zap the evil right out of the bad guys. Heck of a flashbulb, I must say. Unfortunately, the figure was never made. The Masters of the Universe line came to an end before it could be produced.

What does this have to do with Scott Neitlich and Lieutenant Spector? Spector was Scott Neitlich's entry in the contest. Beyond that, I don't really have any specifics, but once again, hey, if you're in charge of the line -- why not? I don't know if we're supposed to assume that the Caucasian Palace Guard in this set, the one designed to look like Neitlich, is actually supposed to be Lieutenant Spector. The bio isn't that specific. Then again, the figure was packaged wearing that very ornate eagle chestplate. One might assume that's indicative of higher rank. Draw your own conclusions.

So, what's my final word here? I'm impressed. These are two very cool figures, very well made, representing a legitimate and established part of the Masters world. And they're being brought to us in action figure form for the first time ever! That doesn't happen all that often in the Masters of the Universe Classics line.

If you can, I would certainly suggest trying to secure TWO sets. That way, you can set up four different Palace Guards. But at least get one set for yourself. They're abundantly cool figures, and certainly a very impressive addition to one of the most impressive action figure lines presently in existence!

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS two-pack of ETERNIAN PALACE GUARDS definitely has my highest recommendation!