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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS FAKER
By Thomas Wheeler

The character of FAKER is the latest addition to Mattel's MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS line of action figures. And somehow, I didn't really expect to see him this soon.

What is it about Faker, anyway? There's a degree to which the original figure was a near-throwaway. It was a means for Mattel, back in the 1980's, to get a secondary use out of several molds within the Masters of the Universe line. Take He-Man, mold him in blue with brown hair, give him Skeletor's chest harness redone in orange, and make him a bad guy robot imitator of He-Man. All Mattel had to do was make a sticker with some robotic imagery on it and put it on his chest. The original Faker came out in 1982, the introductory year of the line.

Arguably, the character didn't even make sense. Faker was blue. How in the world was he supposed to pass for He-Man? Was Skeletor color-blind? One sort of wonders how he does see, given that his head is a skull, but still. Was all of Eternia color-blind? That would be a shame. The planet looks to be a rather colorful place based on the animated series. Was Skeletor so vain about his own coloration that he imbued it into the robot?

And yet somehow, this character has managed to achieve some sort of oddball cult status within the concept among its longtime fans. When the 2002 Masters of the Universe line came along, Faker was an exclusive offering to ToyFare magazines, and the fans were all over it.

And now, in 2009, with the Masters of the Universe Classics line, Faker was an exclusive to the New York ComiCon, with what remained of the production run being offered on MattyCollector website, where, according to a number of reliable reports, Faker sold out in THREE HOURS. You read that right, people -- THREE -- HOURS.

Last time I heard of anything selling out any quicker than that, it was WrestleMania tickets. As for myself -- well, I'm glad I'm a fast typist. I managed to get one.

So who is Faker? Honestly, trying to track down this character's background proved a little confounding.

Faker is a fictional character in the popular toyline Masters of the Universe and the accompanying animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. He is an evil duplicate of the lead character, He-Man, in service to the villain Skeletor. Different media present differing interpretations of his character. The original toyline presents him as a blue-skinned robot replica of He-Man built to serve Skeletor, the toy was packaged as "Evil robot of Skeletor" (or "Evil robot impostor"), and this is the way he is generally viewed by fans, but other media showcase him as a magical creation rather than a robot, or as an exact physical replica of He-Man intended to fool the people of Eternia.

Faker was one of the earliest characters to be produced for the Masters of the Universe toyline, released onto the shelves in early 1982. His toy is a blue-skinned, red-haired repaint of the He-Man figure, wearing armor identical to Skeletor's in orange, with a sticker showing inner robotic workings over his chest. His skin color and armor are intended to make him appear as a cross between He-Man and Skeletor.

Strangely, only one mini-comic from the period features the character - "The Search for Keldor" - and the suggestion is that he is an evil robot built to duplicate He-Man's power and use it to serve the forces of evil. He is used by Skeletor to impersonate He-Man in order to distract King Randor from uncovering the great secret of Keldor. Randor is not fooled by this attempt and Faker suffers a quick defeat, impaled on Randor's spear.

There were two versions of the original release of Faker - a very early version with darker boots and a larger chest sticker (which was not completely hidden by his armor), and the more common version with purple boots and more concealed chest workings sticker.

When Faker appears in a single episode of the MotU animated series by Filmation, the cartoon presents a radically different interpretation of him. Appearing in the early episode "The Shaping Staff," Faker appears as an exact physical replica of He-Man with the same skin tone and armor as the real He-Man, the only physical differences being glowing eyes and a hollow-sounding voice. This is primarily due to the artists at Filmation being able to cut costs by reusing He-Man's character model rather than drawing up a new one for Faker, wearing Skeletor's armor.

Paul Dini's original notes for "The Shaping Staff" indicate that Faker was originally intended to appear like the action figure, but Filmation chose instead to depict him as identical to the real He-Man in order to cut down on costs, by avoiding having to produce extra cels for different characters.

He is presented as a magical creation rather than a robot, created by Skeletor. His role in the episode is minor, appearing only in a five-minute sequence in which he is created to lure The Sorceress out of Castle Grayskull by pretending to be the real He-Man in pain from an injury.

After a quick fight with the real He-Man, Faker is knocked down the bottomless abyss of Grayskull, never to return for the rest of the series, despite Skeletor's claims about recovering him. Though it is never confirmed or denied in the story, Faker's fate can be taken as the only time that a villain is effectively killed in the series. The fact that Faker is only a magical creation and not a "living" being is probably the reason that the violence-cautious producers allowed this fate to occur.

Other media producing MotU stories throughout the 1980s gave their own individual interpretations of Faker. In the early UK annuals he is one of Skeletor's most trusted assistants and an escapee from the intergalactic Prison Star. Later annuals state that he is the result of a spell cast by Skeletor that did not quite work out; it is often stated that it was Beast Man's fault, and although intended as an exact replica of He-Man had turned out blue-skinned and deformed, and therefore unable to fool the Eternians in the way Skeletor had planned.

In the UK comics, meanwhile, he is once again shown as a magical creation, although this time he is able to temporarily change from his regular blue-skinned form to the exact same form as the real He-Man, but the change only ever lasts a short period of time. The comics also clearly show that he is not equal in strength to the real He-Man, and despite having the same appearance possesses only the strength of an average warrior. The comics add extra depth to his character by giving him a bitter grudge against the real He-Man after his original loss to him in battle, and a sense of competition, hoping to overcome the man in whose image he had been created.

Although Faker was largely absent from the 2002 relaunch of the Masters of the Universe cartoon, he had been intended to play a major role in the unproduced third season of the series, tricking the Eternians into turning against He-Man and enabling Skeletor to conquer the planet. Although the cartoon was canceled before this storyline could be produced, the episode "The Courage of Adam" features a brief "sort of" glimpse of Faker. As a holographic He-Man robot built by Man-At-Arms is deactivated, it briefly flashes the Faker colors before collapsing, intended by the director as a subtle hint that the robot would be resurrected in the show's later stages as Faker.

Interestingly enough, one issue of the 2002-based Masters of the Universe comic book presented a full-page poster of not only Faker, but Faker-colored versions of Man-At-Arms and Teela, all with blue skin and largely reversed uniform colors.

Just to throw one more monkey-wrench into this character's background, there's a superb UK magazine out there called "Cereal:Geek", which takes a comprehensive look at pop culture animation from the 1980's. Every so often they have an entry from something they call "The Official Handbook of the Eighties Universe" (a play on the "Marvel Universe" Handbook). One recent issue had an entry on Faker that tried its best to reconcile the backstory of the character.

However, in this instance, it describes Faker as neither a robot or some magical creation, but as a CLONE. Apart from that it largely relates the story of the original series animated episode. I have to say that I otherwise like the idea of Faker being able to maintain He-Man's coloration, if only for a brief period of time. The character just makes no sense otherwise.

I think in fairness, though, we have to regard Faker as a very sophisticated robot. Although he was created magically by Skeletor for the original animated series, he had certain robotic attributes, including the glowing eyes and the hollow-sounding voice, and virtually every other version of Faker has been presented as robotic. And ultimately, there's not much way around that chest sticker with the robotic details on it. A clone wouldn't have that.

I have to say I was curious about how Mattel would address the character. These Masters of the Universe Classics figures have one thing on their package that no previous Masters figure has -- a file card with a character backstory. File cards like this were originally the invention of G.I. Joe, and at the time, the Masters didn't pick them up. But now they have. The Masters file cards look more like unfurled scrolls, and have fairly fancy type on them.

How would Mattel handle Faker? His card reads as follows:

FAKER - EVIL ROBOT OF SKELETOR
Real Name: N/A

Originally built by Man-At-Arms to cover for He-Man when Prince Adam is needed, Faker was abandoned in the royal junkyard after his first mission and salvaged by the evil warrior Tri-Klops. At the request of Skeletor, Faker was reprogrammed to replace He-Man and convince the people of Eternia that He-Man had betrayed King Randor and turned to evil.

Sounds like this is based as much as anything on the plans for the character in the 2002 animated series, with maybe a little of the UK stories thrown in. It still doesn't fully explain his coloration, but I think we're going to just have to chalk that up to it being pretty pointless from a toy standpoint to just repackaging He-Man "as is" and calling him something else. There has to be some alteration.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. I've said it with the other reviews I've done of Masters of the Universe Classics, and I'll say it again. I sincerely believe that Mattel has created, with the extremely able sculpting and design of the Four Horsemen, the ultimate Masters of the Universe line.

The original figures from the 1980's set the stage, but let's face it, they did look a little goofy with those short, stumpy bow-legs. The 2002 line brought some amazing sculpting and style to the concept, but there are those who believe that the line was over-styled, and the figures could have used some better articulation. I'm inclined to agree on that point.

With the new Masters of the Universe Classics line, we have everything we need. Plenty of articulation, a good overall design that is respectful to the original while not being totally devoted to some of its goofier aspects, and just enough style to bring the Masters into the modern era without neglecting their roots.

Faker, obviously, is He-Man. The figure uses the same body molds as He-Man, just colored differently. The figure is actually a slightly darker and slightly more intense shade of blue than Skeletor, interestingly enough. Now, I actually checked my 2002-era figures. Curiously, Faker here is also slightly darker and more intense a shade of blue than Skeletor. I can't report on the originals as I don't have them.

Faker has red eyes, lacking pupils. Once again in comparison to his predecessors, the 2002 Faker also had red eyes, but with black pupils. I doubt very much that the original Faker had red eyes, since the detail on those figures was not as extensive as the two more recent lines. Those figures didn't even have whites to their eyes, never mind colored irises. However, the red eyes are a nice nod to the reddish eyes that the character had in his original animated episode.

Faker's hair is brown in color, and has been given black detailing. While I normally don't approve of this sort of practice, in this case it works well enough.

Faker is wearing a purple loincloth and boots, the same color as Skeletor's, with black wrappings around the boots. When we get to the belt and wrist bands, here is where we have a bit more detail that not even the 2002 Faker opted for. The belt and wristbands are dark, semi-metallic grey, with silver borders and details. Interestingly enough, this makes them more detailed than He-Man's belt and wrist-bands, which are orange-ish in color, and have some brown detail internally, but lack the border color detailing.

One other very minor detail note, for what it's worth. Faker's eyebrows are different than He-Man's. They're thinner, and more arched. Also worth mentioning is the fact that while He-Man has a line around the entire perimeter of his eyes, Faker only has a line over his eyes. Don't ask me why, but there's something about the way this is done that makes Faker look a little duller of wit than He-Man.

Faker has a bit of detail coloring sprayed on his body, mostly to bring out his musculature. What's driving me a little nuts is I can't figure out if some areas were painted a little darker, or if some areas were painted a little lighter. I'm usually better at spotting this sort of thing. Good work, Mattel!

Now, we come to the one really major structural difference between He-Man and Faker -- the chest harness. Faker's is a recolored version of Skeletor's own. And thank goodness, the color is a little more sensibly done this time.

Spectrally speaking, Faker is SORT OF a color reversal of He-Man. Technically, if he were a full reversal, his skin would probably be a darker blue than it is. And his loincloth and boots would not be purple. He got that from Skeletor. But if one considers Skeletor's chest harness to be purple, then the accurate reverse of that is really yellow. Thank goodness Mattel didn't quote go that route, but the orange that they've used on both previous Faker's -- original and 2002 -- was nevertheless pretty intense. And as if Faker wasn't a hard luck case to begin with, that bright orange harness made it even harder to take him seriously.

Mattel muted it a bit this time around, going for a tannish-orange and putting some weathering paint on it -- again, one of the few times when this practice actually worked to an advantage -- making Faker's chest harness look like pale leather, as much as anything. At the very least, it's more plausible-looking, as far as anything in the Masters universe is plausible to begin with.

The "crossbones" in the center and some of the studs along the straps have been painted a pale metallic orange, for some additional detail.

Faker DOES have the robotic details on his chest, but this time around, it's not a sticker. It's an imprint on the figure itself. Although the chest harness covers most of it, as well it should, it is possible to unstrap the chest harness, although it can't be completely removed, and inspect the imprinted details. Unfortunately I can't show you a picture of it, but I was impressed with the design.

The original Faker's sticker looked like two huge tape reels as much as anything, sort of a quintessential computer image which was common in science-fiction entertainment throughout the 60's, and wasn't entirely invalid even in the 80's. But in today's computer age, with CD's, and even tiny little thumb drives, reel-to-reel tape imagery just doesn't work. Thankfully, Faker's robotic image has been updated, so that the former "reels" look more like high-tech discs, and the other details on the imprinted image have been similarly upgraded.

Accessory-wise, Faker comes with one-and-a-half swords. One of them is a metallic orange counterpart of He-Man's own power sword, notably lacking any of its magical properties, and the half-sword is a metallic orange counterpart of the half-sword that Skeletor carries, back when the premise had He-Man and Skeletor each possessing one half of the Power Sword.

Articulation? Ah, here is where the Masters of the Universe Classics line really shines. The original He-Man figures could pose only at the head, arms, waist, and legs. That was agreeable enough for the 1980's. However, that limited articulation was carried over for the most part into the 2002 line, with a little more movement at the shoulders, and a wrist rotation.

The Masters of the Universe Classics line are very fully poseable. Faker is articulated at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid- torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot top swivel, and ankles.

Any complaints? Just one, and unfortunately it has to do with the articulation. I noticed this a bit on Stratos, the figure just prior to Faker. He had a couple of articulation points that were just a little looser than I was comfortable with.

So does Faker, and they're a lot more obvious. Both bicep swivels are pretty loose, and so is the left leg, right at the hip (not the swivel). It's not so bad that I think the figure is going to break and fall apart on me, but it is enough to worry me.

On the one hand, I don't want a figure that is so tightly articulated that it practically takes a pair of pliers to move him, and one worries about breaking something off. On the other hand, I don't want a figure that is so loosely articulated that he can't hold a pose or even stand up properly. Faker's not that badly off by any means, but -- well, direct example. The figure is lying on a flat surface right now. If I pick him up at the torso, the left leg swings back a bit, just of its own weight and accord. That shouldn't happen.

That having been said, and hoping that Mattel actually has more than one set of body molds available, in any case, these molds are going to see some fairly extensive use for a lot of different figures. They need to be properly maintained, or by the time we start getting around to excellent characters such as Man-At-Arms, Tri-Klops, and Zodac, these things won't even be able to stand up! And that would be as grievous a shame as any other quality control issue I've ever addressed to Mattel.

However, apart from this, I have absolutely no complaints about Faker whatsoever.

So, what's my final word? Well, it's not as though you're going to be able to hop over to MattyCollector website after reading this review and order Faker for yourself. He's gone. He was gone the same day I ordered mine. However, there is, as always, the secondary market, although I wouldn't expect Faker to be one of the less-expensive entries in the line. From New York ComiCon exclusive to lightning-quick sell-out online, Faker's mysterious popularity seems to be fully in effect.

However, for anyone who's a fan of Masters of the Universe, and likes some of the quirkier characters, Faker would still be a must-have. He won't be easy, but he'll definitely be worth it. This line as a whole continues to impress, and certainly Faker is impressive.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of FAKER definitely has my highest recommendation!