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By Thomas Wheeler

Alas, the Masters of the Universe line is no more, and hasn't been for a while now. Although the line continues in a form of statues from NECA, sculpted by the same Four Horsemen that sculpted the action figures, and although Mattel representatives have stated publicly (on the fan site) that they would like to bring the line back, it doesn't look like it's going to happen soon.

And there are those that regard this particular He-Man figure as a prime example of one of the main reasons the line failed. Although not technically the last figure released in the line, Smash-Blade He-Man, along with Orko, are about the only specimens you'll find anymore.

It's not really an unfair observation. One of the things that really hurt the Masters of the Universe line was Mattel's belief that they had to keep a He-Man and Skeletor figure in the assortments at all times, and that kids would be mostly interested in these two characters and less interested in the rest of the crew. Unfortunately, kids never really went for the line that strongly (another reason it failed), and adult collectors got frustrated that they couldn't find Evil-Lyn, or Roboto, or anybody else, for all of the multiple variants of He-Man and Skeletor that were heavy-packed in the case assortments, and gathering dust on the shelves.

I plan, in the near future, to write an overall retrospective article about the modern Masters of the Universe line. If nothing else, I would hope it would serve as a reminder about this very cool incarnation about a very cool concept. But for now, let's set aside all the grief that's been dumped on him, and take a look at Smash-Blade He-Man.

On the surface, the figure is little more than a very basic recoloration of the standard He-Man figure. In fact, the He-Man figure shown on the back of the package card isn't even recolored. But the one IN the package is. And while it might not be a traditional color pattern, as far as I'm concerned, it's an improvement. He-Man's loincloth, boots, and chest armor have been recolored a metallic blue. This enables He-Man to lose a bit of that primitive "Me, Tarzan" look and somehow appear just a bit more seriously heroic. His wrist bands remain gold, and there's a nice variety of silver, gold, and copper detailing in his belt and armor.

And let me say this -- it's very neatly painted, and some of the paint work is fairly intricate. This is a figure from before the recent influx of sloppy hand-painted details that seem to be cropping up -- although in fairness, I haven't really noticed this much from Mattel.

I continue to be impressed by the design of the figure. Although not extensively articulated, this is in keeping with the somewhat limited articulation of the original figures from the 1980's. And he's still more articulated than they were. The originals could not move their arms outward, and their wrists didn't turn. The modern Masters were designed by a sculpting team known as the Four Horsemen, who have done a lot of work for Mattel, and very impressively. In my opinion, their Masters designs are their best work ever.

They took a line that, for all its variety and sucess in the 80's, still looked just a BIT goofy, and turned it serious, and very cool. All you have to do is stufy some of the finer detail, such as the hands, or the wrist bands, to see the level of detail that the sculptors put into these figures. And certainly He-Man is one of the more impressive specimens.

So, what makes him "Smash Blade" He-Man? Well, it's one of his weapons. This He-Man figure, of course, comes with his traditional Power Sword, as well as a very nice shield. But he also comes with an additional weapon, called the Smash Blade, that honestly is a little difficult to describe. Whoever designed this came up with something that I've never seen before, but that I certainly wouldn't want to be on the wrong end of.

It's this whirling, hand-held mechanism that has three sword blades and three maces on curved coils. If that isn't enough, there's three sharp- looking points in the center of the device. I guess that's so on the off- chance you get past the swords and the maces, you're still going to get hurt. It's a vicious-looking piece of work, and certainly lives up to the name "Smash Blade".

Smash Blade He-Man is regarded by a lot of Masters fans as a joke -- a pathetic one, too, and an example of what went wrong with, and ultimately cancelled the Masters line. And indeed, he might well be an example of just that. But on his own, he's still a pretty darn cool He-Man figure, and that Smash Blade weapon is a serious piece of business that I would not want to have to face if I were Skeletor or any of He-Man's other enemies.

You can probably find a Smash Blade He-Man at your local Toy Stores. Give the poor guy a break. Drop by the store, dust one off, and give him a home. You won't be disappointed.