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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS FANG MAN
By Thomas Wheeler

As with any long-running pop culture concept like Masters of the Universe, there are going to be characters that are more prominent than others. He-Man and Skeletor obviously rank the highest, but other characters are certainly well known, such as Man-At-Arms, Beast Man, Teela, Mer-Man, Sorceress, and so forth.

But -- Fang Man!? This offering in the Masters of the Universe Classics series didn't really ring too many bells. I had to ask a few questions from those more knowledgeable about the history of the Masters to track this one down.

It seems that Fang Man was one of a number of characters developed for the Filmation animated series from the 1980's, who just never made it into figure form.

Let's consider a brief history of the original animated series, because there were a number of groundbreaking elements to it at the time.

The show was one of the most popular animated children's shows of the 1980s, and has retained a heavy following to this day. It made its television debut in 1983 and ran until 1985, consisting of two seasons of 65 episodes each. Reruns continued to air in syndication until 1988.

The Mattel company developed the original He-Man action figure line in 1981; the franchise backstory was conceived by the Filmation animation studio. Some time after, both firms pitched the idea to the ABC network, who turned it down. The resulting series, officially titled He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, debuted through barter syndication in September 1983, and became the first syndicated show to be based on a toy, as well as one of the first-ever first-run syndicated animated series. Previously, most "new" animation was featured on networks on Saturday mornings, whereas syndicated animation, sold to local independent stations around the country, tended to be older shows, such as The Flintstones and Yogi Bear. By 1984, it was seen on 120 U.S. stations and in more than 30 countries.

He-Man was notable for breaking the boundaries of censorship that had severely restricted the narrative scope of children's TV programming in the 1970s. For the first time in years, a cartoon series could feature a muscular superhero who was actually allowed to hit people (although he more typically used wrestling-style moves rather than actually punching enemies), though he still could not use his sword often; more often than not He-Man opted to pick up his opponents and toss them away rather than hit them.

The cartoon was controversial in that it was produced in connection with marketing a line of toys; advertising to children was itself controversial during this period. The show was so successful that it spawned a spin-off series, She-Ra: Princess of Power following the adventures of He-Man's sister.

It is also noted for featuring early script-writing work from J. Michael Straczynski, later the creator of Babylon 5; Paul Dini and Brynne Stephens, both of whom who would go on to write acclaimed episodes of Batman: The Animated Series; Beast Wars story editor Larry DiTillio; and David Wise, later the head-writer of the TV version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Which is one heck of a pedigree. So, where does Fang Man fit in? He fits in as one of the bad guys in one of the earliest first season episodes. Let's keep in mind that the number of characters available to Filmation, simply based on the scope of the action figure line at the time, was fairly limited. It had also been established that the vast majority of Skeletor's cronies, with the possible exception of Evil-Lyn, were a pack of idiots who would probably blow a fuse in their heads trying to conceive of an original thought, let alone come up with any sort of complex scheme of their own.

That sort of restricted He-Man's adventures to going up against Skeletor's latest scheme, which unless some sort of variety could be thrown into it, could get rather tedious. So along the way, Filmation developed a number of characters of their own that could be worked into the series to provide a little variety, without necessarily having anything to do with the action figure line.

A number of these individuals are finding their way into the Classics action figure line in 2013, and while reaction to this has been somewhat mixed, personally, I'm in favor of it. There were some interesting individuals in those animated adventures, and I believe they're deserving of their plastic articulated counterparts. Yes, there's still no shortage of established characters from the original action figure line that need and deserve to be brought into the Classics line, and I am certainly interested in them as well, and I fervently hope that they get their chance. But I have no problem with some Filmation-based participation, either.

Fang Man can trace his appearance back to Episode #8 of the first season, which was titled "The Time Corridor", and was written by Larry DiTillio. In this episode, Prince Adam, Cringer, Man-At-Arms and Orko are enjoying a picnic in the grounds outside the palace when Zoar summons them to Castle Grayskull. When they arrive, the Sorceress tells them that Skeletor has travelled into the past, and is working alongside the Ape Clan in a plot to destroy Castle Grayskull with an artifact called the Wheel of Infinity.

The heroes use the Sorceress' time portal to travel to Eternia's past, where they immediately meet and save Zilora, the leader of the Snake Clan, from a Dragosaur. (One assumes this Snake Clan has nothing to do with the Snake-Men, who had yet to be introduced into the concept.) With the gratitude of the Snake Clan, the heroes enlist their aid in storming Skeletor's fortress. The fighting is fierce, but during the battle Zilora is captured and taken to Dragosaur Isle. He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Orko and Battle Cat follow the captors to the island, and manage to save Zilora.

The Sorceress uses her powers to reach through time and appear to them in a vision; she urges them back to the fortress, where Skeletor starts the Wheel of Infinity spinning. He-Man grabs the wheel and spins it even faster, overloading the artifact. Fearing an imminent explosion. Skeletor makes his escape and He-Man hurls the Wheel into the reaches of space, where it explodes. After they have made their farewells to Zilora, the Sorceress summons He-Man and his friends back to the present, and thanks them for saving Castle Grayskull.

As for Fang Man's participation in this episode, Fang Man served as a member of Skeletor's Evil Warriors and was involved in a meeting at Snake Mountain when his master devised a new plan to conquer Eternia. This involved a complicated use of the Wheel of Infinity and traveling to Eternia's distant past to a point before Castle Grayskull was created with the intention of building a fortress there in order to place the Wheel of Infinity. Thus, it was expected that the Wheel would spin faster and faster until it exploded, thus destroying Castle Grayskull in the future. Whilst Skeletor supervised the building of the fortress, Fang Man gathered a number of Dragosaurs which he took under his control, and used them to pacify the area that was populated by the Snake Clan as well as the Ape Clan.

When He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Orko and Battle Cat went into the past to follow them; they traveled to Dragosaur Isle in order to rescue Zilora of the Snake Clan. During the fight, Fang Man rode a Dragosaur and commanded others to attack He-Man. His two Dragosaurs were knocked out by Man-At-Arms leading to Fang Man riding his Dragosaur to attack. However, He-Man threw a tree at the Dragosaur and knocked Fang Man out who fell unconscious amongst his pets, thus allowing the heroes to rescue Zilora.

Fang Man's fate following the attack is unknown and its possible he was left in Eternia's distant past by Skeletor. This is confirmed by the backstory on his toy package's file card, as we shall see. Despite his reptilian appearance, Fang Man is not related to the Snake-Men, but rather is evolved from the Dragosaurs themselves, which might well explain why Skeletor enlisted his aid in controlling them in the past.

One needs to keep in mind that this story took place before the development of the Snake-Men, or the concept of Preternia. Doubtless there are some plot holes that would need to be plugged if we investigate this story too closely -- which I'm not going to do.

So, how's the figure? Impressive, and certainly interesting. I'm honestly a little surprised that Filmation would have developed this extreme-looking a character. One of the aspects of the animation that Filmation used, not only for He-Man, but a number of their other series, including Tarzan, the Lone Ranger, a Batman series in the 1980's, and a few others, was called "rotoscoping". This involved filming live actors performing various basic moves, such as walking, running, jumping, whatever, and then basing the animation on that footage. While on the one hand this resulted in particularly realistic looking animated characters, it also amounted to a lot of stock footage. If He-Man was running, the same set of animation cels could be used up against whatever background was needed. Admittedly, this was also a considerable time-and-money-saver, so it's understandable.

One can also understand that this technique would also work best, the more human a character looked. Characters with more extreme features, such as Mer-Man for example, would need, at the very least, to have their faces imagined without any reference footage to work from.

So you've got someone like Fang Man, who stands somewhat hunched over, and has a long, thick neck, and a decidedly non-human head, and, well, as I said, it's a little surprising that someone like this is a Filmation creation. Probably explains why he was just in one episode, too.

Some of the early pictures I saw of Fang Man made me think that perhaps he used some of the distinctive body parts of Leech, a member of the Evil Horde who has a somewhat wider body than average, and as such required more special parts to be made than one might expect for a typical Masters Classics figure. I can well imagine Mattel wanting to get more than one use out of those parts, but that's not the case here. I believe what made ,me think that was Fang Man's somewhat hunched over stance, and the rather broad-shouldered tunic that he's wearing over an otherwise relatively standard body.

The main body underneath the tunic, although it doesn't really show unless you undo the side clasps on the tunic (which I don't recommend since I had a heck of a time getting it re-clasped) is molded in the same light blue as the rest of Fang Man's body, but interestingly, it's heavily scaled -- something the rest of Fang Man's body, despite his obvious reptilian origin, isn't. And I'm really not sure whose body this might have otherwise been. I doubt very much that it was created specifically for Fang Man, especially in light of the covering tunic, but I couldn't find a quick match for it among other Masters Classics figures. I thought it might have been Whiplash's, but it's not.

Molded as part of an extended neck is an orange collar with a series of gold metal studs around it. The neck is very thick, and rather wrinkled in appearance. Fang Man's head is entirely non-human, having a distinct dragon-like appearance to it. Fang Man has two rather large, bulbous, forward facing yellow eyes, with small black pupils, a broad snout with a wide nose, and a large, somewhat open mouth, with two white fangs positioned in the top, and a small, pink, forked tongue sticking out a bit. He has two small pointed ears on the sides of his head.

Fang Man has a large, dark blue fin on the top of his head, first in a series of such triangular-shaped, scale-like fins that descend in size as they descend down his back. After the first three, the remainder are represented by distinct "humps" under the red tunic.

What impressive about the overall design is that if you take a look at the image of the character on the back of the package card, which appears to be derived from the cartoon itself, it's a heck of a good likeness. For that matter, it's a better detailed improvement, without losing the basic look of the character. Admittedly, Fang Man's appearance borders on the comical. The sculpting and design team of the Four Horsemen managed to take this, and create a character that looks like he fits in well with the rest of the Masters, and while still having a rather offbeat appearance that borders on the silly (I mean, really, compare this guy to Draego-Man and tell me which one looks more dangerous), you're not as inclined to write him off as a joke, either.

The tunic Fang Man is wearing is mostly dark red, with some impressive detail on it that I suspect Filmation only wishes it could have achieved with its budget constraints. There's some ridged detail at the shoulders, as well as some visible seams, and a ridged gold section down the front, that's also been highlighted in very fine lines of metallic gold. This detailing continues down to Fang Man's shorts, which are the same color red, and gave a bit of the same ridged detailing on them. Fang Man also has a black belt, with a silver and gold dragon-faced buckle on it, and a couple of silver metal studs.

The shorts and belt are distinctive to the character, so that's an impressive bit of work on Mattel's part, and they're definitely not the "furry loincloth" variety common to many Masters of the Universe figures. Neither are the boots which Fang Man is wearing, which are also red and of a more straightforward design. One can hardly blame Filmation for wanting to create a few characters here and there that gave them a break from that bit of detail work. Fang Man's boots are angled upward, and the top portions of the boots have a bit of metallic gold overspray on them.

The figure uses standard Masters Classics arms and legs, as well as hands, although his hands have clawed fingernails, which have been painted dark blue. He is wearing orange wristbands of a fairly standard sort, with gold details on them.

All of the paintwork is very neatly done, and of course, Fang Man is superbly articulated, fully poseable at the head, neck, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, boot tops, and ankles.

Fang Man comes with three accessories. One is a basic but nicely detailed sword. The second is a six-sided object with the "infinity" symbol inside of it, which I surmise to be the Wheel of Infinity that Skeletor sought to use. The third is some sort of strange device, looking very -- Filmation-ish in design -- that has a handle with several orange rings on it, and two spokes at the top that end in spheres. Maybe if I had the animated series on DVD and could check the episode I could tell you what this thing is, but just offhand, I don't have any real idea. Maybe some sort of control aid for Fang Man to use on the Dragosaurs? It's decently made, whatever it is.

Fang Man's character profile reads as follows:

FANG MAN - Evil Fanged Minion of Skeletor
Real Name: SCUTES IGNIS

Evolved from the ancient Dragosaur species, Fang Man spent his youth in the Valley of Dragons. Skeletor recruited Fang Man after discovering his ability to control the fire-breathing dragons to do his bidding. Fang Man used the Dragosaurs of the past to assist the Evil Lord of Destruction in his evil plans when Skeletor used the Wheel of Infinity to go back into time and stop Castle Grayskull from being built. Eventually, defeated by He-Man, Skeletor abandoned Fang Man in the past, where he resides with his ancestors on Dragosaur Isle, waiting for the return of his master. Fang Man has piercing teeth and uses his mind-control ability to manipulate fire-breathing species.

Uh, yeah, Fang Man, dude? Hate to break it to you. Ol' Bone-Face isn't coming back for you. He's got this thing about failed minions. You're stuck.

Wow -- abandoning someone in time. I mean, stranding somebody at an airport or a bus station is bad enough, but that's just cold...

I wondered about Fang Man's real name, "Scutes Ignis", and wondered if it had any meaning beyond just being a created name. There was something about it that sounded more than just a randomly created name. And, I might have. A "scutum" was an ancient type of Roman shield, whereas a "scute", in zoological terms, is a bony external plate or scale, as on the shell of a turtle or the underside of a snake. "Ignis" is a Latin term for fire. Given Fang Man's obvious reptilian origins, and his ability to control fire-breathing dragons, the name certainly fits. Who says modern toys aren't educational?

So, what's my final word? This is a cool figure. Clearly, Mattel and the Four Horsemen put a lot of above-average work into this character, which is especially impressive seeing as how he appeared in all of one episode of the original animated series. But he's just the first of several Filmation-based characters that we'll be seeing in the line over the course of the year, and really, I'm looking forward to all of them. And if they turn out as well as Fang Man, then they'll all be superb additions to the collection.

If you're a Masters fan, and have fond memories of the original Filmation animated series, then you seriously need to find a way to bring Fang Man into your collection. You'll be glad you did.

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