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REVIEW:MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS GYGOR
By Thomas Wheeler

I have often said in my reviews that if a planet such as Eternia actually existed, it would be an anthropologist's dream -- or nightmare. I mean, consider the number of sentient, humanoid species. You've got regular humans, but you've also got bird-men, bee-men, cat-men, mer-men, snake-men, and a few things that aren't as readily classified. All developing on the same planet. That's pretty remarkable.

Now I'm starting to think that Eternia would pose a similar challenge for a zoologist. Okay, we've known about characters such as Battle Cat, and he made his way into the Masters of the Universe Classics line a while back. But where did this big ape come from?

That's not intended as an insult. This really is a big ape, and his name is GYGOR. And much like Battle Cat and the giant humanoid Tytus, he's one of those somewhat more expensive but generally worth it bonus figures that Mattel produces for this line every so often. Gygor is a gorilla. He's not an ape-MAN. He's not some leftover from Planet of the Apes, that looks more or less humanoid but has certain simian features. He's fully gorilla here, albeit one with green skin and yellow-orange fur.

This now begs the question -- where did he come from? Gygor never turned up in the original line OR the 2002 line. Believe me, this guy is hard to miss. He wasn't even part of the New Adventures of He-Man. So -- where did he come from?

To answer that question, we actually have to go back further in time, to a line the preceded the original Masters of the Universe, to the 1970's, and an action figure line called BIG JIM.

I've often commented that Mattel arguably had three major action figure hits between the 1960's and the 1980's. Let's face it, for years the company was best known for Barbie and Hot Wheels -- not that there's anything wrong with those product lines and they certainly have their collectors and fans! In the 1960's, Mattel created an amazing line of reasonably realistic if somewhat speculative astronauts with a line called Major Matt Mason. It is fondly remembered to this day, and I had a ton of it when I was a kid. In the 1980's, of course, Mattel had the original Masters of the Universe, which stood alongside the likes of Hasbro's G.I. Joe and Transformers as pretty much the best known "big three" action figure lines of that decade.

In the 1970's, Mattel had BIG JIM. Standing about 10-1/2" in height, Big Jim was a non-military counterpoint to Hasbro's 12" G.I. Joe -- which by the 1970's wasn't so military himself anymore, but still carried a certain military connotation with him.

Big Jim was a superbly crafted action figure for the time, and I honestly think would hold up reasonably well today. The figure had two unusual action features, in that his rubberized arms, which contained a mechanical articulation structure underneath, could flex their biceps when bent at the elbow. Big Jim also featured a spring-action karate chop in his right arm, activated by a concealed button in the figure's back. The button did not protrude, and the spring-action mechanism did not interfere with the figure's normal articulation. It was a superb design.

Big Jim was soon joined by his friends Big Jeff, Big Josh, and Big Jack, in one of the more blindingly obvious naming procedures in the history of action figures. Before long, and one might assume that a limited number of participatory sports might have been something of a factor, Big Jim and his friends took on greater adventures. Big Jim could become a cowboy, an arctic explorer, a jungle safari specialist, a rescue ranger, even a commando, the closest he ever really got to stepping on G.I. Joe's toes.

Later on, Big Jim formed the P.A.C.K., which stood for Professional Agents/Crime Killers. These were really cool figures, which I had in the 1970's. Big Jim got serious about his adventures, and rounded up some new allies in their own fight against evil. Although Big Jim's adventures wound down in the United States in the mid-to-late 1970's, Big Jim proved extremely popular in Europe, and would continue over there well into the 1980's, taking on a number of roles, from secret agent to even science-fiction. It's one of the more unusual toy histories out there.

It's even been strongly indicated that Big Jim is the father of a later Mattel adventurer action figure that had a decent enough run, even including a TV show -- Max Steel. I wouldn't mind seeing Big Jim return someday. Heck, I wouldn't mind seeing Major Matt Mason return someday. But I'm not holding my breath on either one, really.

Now, what's all this got to do with Gygor? I'm getting there, but I do want to provide a proper historical context, because Gygor's got more history than some fans might think he has. One of Big Jim's adventure sets -- and there was certainly no shortage of them over the years -- was called "Jungle Adventure" set. It included, among other things, an articulated plastic gorilla, a net with which to capture him, and other assorted equipment.

The question for me is -- how big was the gorilla? And honestly, I'm not entirely sure. The lone photograph I have on this item is a shot with a certain amount of forced perspective. It shows the gorilla in the foreground, with the aforementioned net flying over it, having apparently been fired from some sort of device by Big Jim and one of his friends, who are standing in the background dressed like a couple of "Crocodile Dundee" wannabees, in positions that look as though they're really hoping that net works, because if it doesn't, they're in big trouble.

Unfortunately, given the angle of the photograph, there's no way to tell how big the gorilla is. Big Jim and his friend are definitely in the background. However, there's no reason to assume that this was a "Pygmy Gorilla" like G.I. Joe ended up with during his Adventurer days (and really, what's with picking on gorillas like this, anyway?!), so let's assume that this gorilla was more reasonably to scale with the human figures in the line.

Big Jim's gorilla is apparently black, or at least a very dark color (the photo is black and white), and for the time period, looks quite reasonable. Basically, it looks like a rather cheesed-off gorilla (and who can blame it?) with articulated arms, legs, and possibly head. Sculpted detail on the fur, face, and other assorted ape-like details aren't too bad, for the time.

In other words, it has the same articulation for the most part as an average original Masters of the Universe figure. And here is where we come around to Gygor. Apparently there were plans, which I only learned about relatively recently (right around the same time someone discovered that Mattel had trademarked the name "Gygor" for the new Classics series), to introduce a large gorilla-type character into the original Masters of the Universe line, using the Big Jim gorilla.

Now, consider that Big Jim was a 10-1/2" scale line. The original Masters of the Universe figures were, on the average, 5-3/4". A little better than half the size of Big Jim. Even if the gorilla was a bit short by Big Jim standards, it still would've been absolutely huge to the Masters.

Obviously, Gygor never happened in the original line. The reasons why have been lost to history. Maybe the shift to the planned "Preternia" concept left Gygor out in the cold. Maybe he would've been too expensive. Looking at this gorilla in his original form, I think he would've been a good fit in the line as planned. But, whatever the case, Gygor was never officially a part of the original Masters of the Universe line.

But, there's no reason in the world to waste a perfectly good gorilla! Certainly the character would make for a good "larger scale" figure, especially since had he appeared in the original line, he likely would have been distinctly larger than the figures of the time. And so, he's been brought into the Classics line!

So, how's the figure? Well, let me put it this way -- this sure as heck isn't Big Jim's monkey! As decently made as that gorilla might have been at the time, there's just no comparison. I think if Big Jim and his buddies, or for that matter the original Masters, had been required to face something like this, they would've headed for the hills en masse -- Big Jim, Big Josh, He-Man, Skeletor, AND the original gorilla!

A friend of mine who is well-informed about the animal kingdom has pointed out to me that gorillas are vegetarians, and are relatively gentle creatures most of the time. That may well be true. But one look at Gygor and you get the impression that either Eternian gorillas are cut from a different cloth, or maybe Gygor is inclined to make a few exceptions to the usual rules of gorilla behavior. Earth gorillas are a legitimately endangered species, for some pretty inexcusable reasons, and that's a sincere tragedy. Gygor looks more like he'd DO the endangering. Granted, he is listed as one of the bad guys, so no great surprise there.

Let me say one slightly critical word about the packaging. Now, the design of the box is perfectly fine, but Gygor is strapped in with more transparent rubber bands and plastic bars than I've encountered in a long time. Were they worried about escape? For that matter, the head had nearly popped off the figure! Fortunately, I was able to snap it back in place very readily.

Gygor stands just slightly under 10" in height. That's for a line where the average human-type person averages around 6-3/4" in height. This is one big ape.

One thing that the sculpting and design team known as the Four Horsemen have proven in the past is a good ability to not only sculpt humans, but do some impressive animals. Heck, they even managed to make Gleek, the blue monkey companion to the Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna, in the DC Universe Classics line, look -- about as plausible as he was going to, anyway. Apart from their work from Mattel, they have also crafted some figures with animal features that are just amazing to behold.

And, as far as that goes, Gygor isn't even their first gorilla. Way back in DC Universe Classics Wave 2, the Collect-and-Connect figure for that assortment was Gorilla Grodd, a longtime foe of the Flash from a hidden civilization of intelligent gorillas. Grodd was more traditionally-colored, but he was wearing an apparatus that enhanced his mental abilities.

Initially, there was some concern that Gygor might have been a recolored Grodd. As cool as Grodd was, Masters fans didn't really want to be shelling out for a repaint from another line. It was quickly shown that Gygor was categorically not a Grodd repaint, and was in fact distinctly larger. Grodd might laugh at Gygor's unusual color scheme, but he'd only laugh once. I think at that point, Gygor would pound Grodd into Monkey McNuggets.

But I find myself of the opinion that the Four Horsemen must keep wildlife reference books in hand in their studio, because you could pretty much use either Grodd or Gygor (color notwithstanding) as a legitimate visual aid in a zoological lecture. They're THAT good. That precise. As I said at the top of this review, Gygor is not like Mer-Man, or Buzz-Off, or Carnivus, a relatively human-proportioned individual with certain animal-like characteristics. Gygor is all ape -- period.

The sculpt is absolutely amazing. I don't expect it comes through in the photos accompanying this article anywhere near as well as I'd like it to, but the fur detail on every piece of this figure is absolutely amazing. It gives the word "painstaking" a new level, it really does. It is a testament first of all to the Four Horsemen that they put this level of detail into this figure, and it is a testament to modern toymaking that it was then possible to take that sculpt and mass produce it and retain this level of detail. You take Gygor back to the 1970's and show him to any toy company at the time and they'd be begging you to tell them how you did it. The only smooth (unfurred) areas on this figure are the face, chest, fronts of the hands, and parts of the feet.

Consider the headsculpt, Here's another testament to sculpting. Look at the face. Okay, maybe it's a face that not even his mother could love, but look at the deepset mouth. This sort of deep cut sculpting design is very rare, because it can be difficult to mold. But they managed! And consider the interior detail. You've got the tongue, the teeth, the roof of the mouth -- all not only very well sculpted, but also painted. In a day when I and many other fans complain about sloppy paint jobs on action figures, Gygor's mouth alone shows what can be done when proper attention is paid by all parties involved in the production.

Consider the rest of the face. This is 100% gorilla, but there's still an intelligence in the eyes. Okay, it's a pretty angry intelligence. Gygor doesn't look like someone who's inclined to sit down and have a philosophical conversation with anybody. But there's more here than just a raging animal, and somehow, it manages to show through an otherwise entirely animal appearance.

Gygor's overall build is massive. Gorillas are bulkier than humans to begin with. Throw in Gygor's sheer size, and you've got something that you really don't want to be on the bad side of. His arms are almost as big around as a standard Masters figure's torso, and when you consider how big those guys are to begin with, that's pretty big. The overall proportions are entirely simian. Out of Gygor's near-ten-inches in height, about six of those are torso (granted, his head lurches forward a bit. The legs, from their topmost point, are less than four inches. The arms are almost precisely six inches in length, which gives you a numerical idea of the overall proportions.

Gygor's articulation -- okay. It's not the same as a standard Masters of the Universe Classics figure, but honestly, that might have been impossible. Or at least would not have looked very good. Gygor doesn't have the leg length or really leg design to do much with, and he's not wearing the traditional Masters loincloth, so there was no way to hide a major articulation construction here. Gygor is articulated at the legs, but it's a single diagonal swivel. It works well enough though. There have been other action figures over the years that have used the same design. He does not have articulated knees, but this, too might have been nearly impossible. He is articulated at the feet. And the detail here is really amazing. Even the bottoms of Gygor's feet have been fully sculpted and detailed, and yet he stands just fine.

The head moves, of course, and Gygor's arms have a full range of motion, at the shoulders, upper arm swivel, elbows, and wrists.

The overall paintwork is excellent. Granted, Gygor is an unusual color for a gorilla -- green skin and yellow-orange fur. Makes one wonder just how colorful are the jungles of Eternia. The figure is molded primarily in orange, of course, and the green has been painted on in something of an airbrush fashion, really amazingly well, creating a semi-indistinct line between the skin and the fur. It looks quite natural and is very effectively done. Of course, I've already commented on the paint around the eyes and mouth. There's a certain amount of highlighting on the fur, which also works very well.

Now, it would be possible to remove all of Gygor's assorted accouterments, and have just a basic gorilla, albeit a strangely colored one. Take off the helmet and even Gygor's visible ear tips are painted. But Gygor is nicely outfitted here. He is wearing a helmet, a chest harness and belt with cape attached, as well as armored wristbands and knee pads.

If Gygor's facial expression isn't enough to persuade you that he's not exactly Mr. Friendly, then the armor certainly does it. Most of it is black, which is certainly offsetting relative to the otherwise rather bright colors of Gygor himself. The helmet is huge and angular, with a number of sharp points on it. The chest harness features flared shoulders and a spiked-looking symbol in the middle. The belt is wide, also with spikes, and the wrist bands and knee pads look downright lethal. The cape is dark red, and has a black gorilla handprint imprinted on it.

One minor complaint. Clearly the harness and belt, at least, was molded in red, with the necessary parts painted black. Credit to Mattel, some of it was painted gloss black, other parts flat black. But that paint, while not at all tacky, thank goodness, did nevertheless cause the armor pieces, including the helmet, wrist bands, and knee pads, to stick to the figure just a bit. They're easily loosened, and left no residue, but might I recommend should a design situation like this arise in the future, either molding the cape separately, or at least letting the paint dry fully during assembly? Not a big deal in this instance, but it could be with different particulars, and I've seen it happen.

Gygor also comes with a large axe -- yeah, like he's not dangerous enough as it is -- that's easily as tall as any average Masters figure.

Of course, the back of the package provides a scroll-like file card with Gygor's backstory. It reads as follows:

GYGOR - Evil Fighting Gorilla
Real Name: Gygor

Shortly after the Great Unrest, Keldor was driven behind the Mystic Wall and Gygor, Lord of the Vine Jungle, led an army of beast men in a series of raids against the long forgotten Castle Grayskull, believing the many tales of its great and mysterious power. It was only through the combined powers of Oo-Larr, the jungle He-Man, and the Goddess that Gygor was defeated and placed in a state of suspended animation. Eventually, Hordak returned to Eternia and the savage gorilla was freed by Evil-Lyn in her attempt to bolster Skeletor's forces against the new Horde army. Gygor uses his great strength to fight the Heroic Warriors.

Boy, who the heck is this Oo-Larr? A mystery for another time, I suspect, because the information on the package did have a little "TM" after his name, so something's up there. Still, the explanation works, and sort of explains in a sideways way why we've never encountered Gygor before.

By the way, in case you're wondering (and I certainly was), "Gygor" is apparently pronounced "GY-GOR", with a hard "G" sound at the start, and not as if it were "JY-GOR". I was honestly a little surprised when I learned this, since frankly, "jy-gor" is a little easier to say, in my opinion.

So, what's my final word here? Some might think that since Gygor was never officially part of any previous Masters of the Universe line, that he's not worth adding to their collection. That would be a mistake. Gygor does have history with the Masters. The fact that his original intended figure never made it out should not be seen as a deterrent, especially when the final product is as impressive as it is. Gygor is the Four Horsemen showcasing their considerable abilities to their utmost in a very distinctive and superbly rendered figure. Anyone with an appreciation for highly-detailed and unique action figures would enjoy having Gygor in their collection, and certainly, if you've been following the Masters of the Universe Classics collection, you need to make sure you find a way to bring this big ape into it.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of GYGOR definitely has my highest recommendation.