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REVIEW: SAN DIEGO COMICON EXCLUSIVE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS HE-RO
By Thomas Wheeler

The San Diego Comics Convention, or Comic-Con, as it is perhaps better known, has become, over the years, pretty much THE place for pop culture mavens. Hardly just a gathering of comics fans anymore, this mega-event brings in movie studios, promoting films that should be of interest to the crowds gathered; video game companies, comics publishers from the greats to people probably running their titles out of overworked computer printers -- and of course the major toy companies are present in force.

As much as the International Toy Fair is a place for companies such as Mattel, Hasbro, and everybody else to try to persuade the major retailers to carry their forthcoming product, the San Diego Comic-Con is an opportunity for these companies to meet with and showcase their products that will be of interest particularly to adult collectors, longtime fans of various concepts that may or may not have had their origins in the toy world, but certainly maintain a considerable presence there.

And, over a good number of years now, one of the main attractions in this realm is that most of the major toy companies offer a number of items that are exclusive to the Comic-Con. Although some remaining supplies might turn up at a later date, they're still billed as Comic-Con exclusives, and the majority of the inventory is likely to go out the door there.

In 2008, Mattel took full advantage of the San Diego Comic-Con to introduce their MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS line. A huge mock-up of Castle Grayskull greeted attendees, as well as a large statue of He-Man's noble ancestor, King Grayskull.

An exclusive King Grayskull figure, the first of the Masters of the Universe Classics line, was available at the convention, in an ornate box that itself simulated Castle Grayskull, and when you opened the drawbridge, there was King Grayskull, and the box would flash lightning and yell "I HAVE THE POWER...!" with a crack of thunder.

The 2009 box doesn't talk, however, the exclusive figure came in the same sort of package as all other Masters of the Universe action figures.

There probably isn't an action figure line in existence that hasn't had some product that has reached some stage of visible development -- sketches, prototypes, whatever -- that just for one reason or another didn't make it to the stores. Cancellation of the line, lack of popularity of the segment, cost overruns, whatever. I can run off any number of well-known and lesser-known action figure lines that this has happened to. G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Visionaries, Air Raiders, Super Powers, you name it.

And it sure as heck happened to the original Masters of the Universe line. In 1987, the line was going to experience a moderate shift in concept, taking a time-travel excursion to the primitive world of "Preternia" -- as opposed to Eternia, of course. This was on the heels of the live-action Masters of the Universe movie, which met with, let's say charitably, mixed reviews. To what degree the marginal performance of the movie impacted the toy line, which wasn't THAT closely tied to the movie, I really don't know. But the fact remains that in 1987, Masters of the Universe reached its original end, with only a handful of Preternia products hitting the stores.

Wikipedia says this: Three of the dinosaur toys from the line actually made it to stores, and the two "giant" action figures saw release as exclusives in Italy. The packaging of the three dinosaur toys that did see release before the line's discontinuation bore the following text: "Travel back in time through a secret time portal--and discover the ORIGIN of THE POWERS OF GRAYSKULL! Learn how He-Man became so strong! And explore the magical world of Preternia--home of HE-RO, the Most Powerful Wizard in the Universe! Monstrous dinosaurs and fierce giants--both good and evil--struggle for control of this strange and hostile land! The dinosaurs in the time of Grayskull--Tyrantisaurus Rex, Bionatops and Turbodactyl--each possess a fantastic mechanical power! Can HE-RO master all the good magic of the Ancient Wizards, and protect future Eternia from forever falling in the claws of evil? Look for HE-RO and The Powers of Grayskull coming your way in 1987!"

Sadly, they never did. And Masters of the Universe fans were left with a lingering mystery -- who the heck was He-Ro? Again, Wikipedia explains: This brief overview set the stage for the Powers of Grayskull storyline, and was elaborated upon in the mini-comic The Powers of Grayskull - The Legend Begins! This book was intended to be the first of a three-part mini-comic mini-series, revealing the whole He-Ro story to the toy-buying public. However, only this first installment appeared, the last mini-comic produced.

As the story opens, the Sorceress uses the power of Central Tower to take He-Man on a fact-finding tour into Eternia's distant past. When the Sorceress and He-Man arrive, followed by Skeletor, they find King Hiss leading a Snake Men attack on a village in the hope of drawing out "The Elders", using some of the cybernetic dinosaurs to their advantage. Hiss serves an "unnamed one" and agrees to unite with Skeletor on the basis that he might be an emissary. Seeing Skeletor's interference, the Sorceress allows He-Man to enter the battle but "for reasons that will be made clear to you in the future" he had to be disguised. He finds himself overwhelmed, but then a shadowy figure appears who turns the odds with a powerful wand. The stranger then sends the Snake Men back to their base and all the time travelers home. The Sorceress describes the intervener as "the Greatest Sorcerer of all!" and He-Man is left asking "But who is he?"

So was everybody else. He-Ro was, as much as anything, a victim of bad timing. His character was announced, and even almost introduced, but the line was discontinued before much could be done about it. And Masters of the Universe fans were left with a lingering mystery.

Of course, in the Internet world of information, it's hard to keep a secret. Pictures of the proposed He-Ro action figure, most likely from Mattel product catalogs that would be sent to toy buyers, showed the prototype He-Ro figure. As one would expect, the figure had the same basic structure as most Masters of the Universe figures in the original line. Muscular body, somewhat stumpy legs, limited articulation. The prototype showed a figure with rather short brown hair, armored chestplate and boots, actually looking more advanced than the somewhat barbaric-looking He-Man, despite coming from a distinctly earlier time period.

Origin stories were not considered as crucial to the Masters of the Universe line at the time as they were to, say, G.I. Joe or Transformers. So apart from being the "greatest sorcerer of all time" or the "most powerful wizard in the universe" or whatever, little was known about the character of He-Ro. And it was pretty well believed -- if frustratingly -- that little would be ever known.

He-Ro didn't turn up in the 2002 Masters of the Universe line. The animated series tied into the toy line produced an episode which did take a look at the earlier times of Eternia, but this event showcased a battle between Hordak and King Grayskull, who was a newly developed character, and He-Man's direct ancestor. There was no mention of He-Ro in the animated series, and some believed that King Grayskull had supplanted He-Ro in the "pre-history" of Eternia, even though no King Grayskull figure was made for the 2002 era line, and Hordak just missed out, later appearing in the action-figure-sized statue line.

He-Ro just couldn't seem to catch a break. Until 2009. Mattel decided to finally add He-Ro to an official Masters of the Universe action figure line, the truly superb Classics line, and he became the exclusive to the San Diego Comic-Con.

The origin story for the character is interesting. For starters, He-Ro is not billed as the "Most Powerful Wizard in the Universe" or any such designation. His package lists him as a "Heroic Cosmic Warrior", and his backstory, as presented on the back of the package card, gives his real name as "Ro", and reads as follows:

Given the sword of He by the Overlords of the timeless dimension of Trolla, Ro was told to "go forth and combat evil". During one such epic battle, he was infected with a techno organic virus by Horde Supreme and sent through a vortex to the magic planet of Eternia. Once there, he was healed by Eldor in a mystical pool which absorbed his virus. In gratitude He-Ro swore to help free Eternia from the Snake Men and Horde invaders. He defended the free people alongside the great King Grayskull, eventually bequeathing his sword to the King upon his heroic death

Now, that's a very interesting background, given the number of other characters and situations that it mentions. Trolla happens to be the interdimensional homeworld to Orko, the frequently annoying little wizard that was initially created by Filmation as a comic relief sidekick for He-Man in the original animated series. Horde Supreme is the alleged ruler of all Horde forces, including Hordak himself. Eldor, if memory serves, was a character mentioned as also being a planned part of the "Preternia" concept in the original line. Of course we're familiar with both the Snake Men and the Horde, but this background story now makes mention of King Grayskull, and makes King Grayskull and He-Ro contemporaries, and both predecessors of He-Man, if not direct ancestors.

Not sure where that techno-organic virus comes into play -- He-Ro shows no evidence of anything like this. The only justification I can see for this is if somehow, in some sort of oblique way, it explains the technological level of modern Eternia, a world that otherwise has significant medieval characteristics.

I'm not sure what significance this has, but any toy company's legal department is going to want to make sure that everything that should be trademarked and registered shows evidence of it when it's mentioned. The names Eternia, He-Ro, Snake Man, and King Grayskull all have such marks. Eldor, somewhat surprisingly to me, does not.

Anyway, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, and a very nice transition into the Classics format from pictures I have seen of the intended original He-Ro. It has always surprised me a bit that He-Ro looked more sophisticated, or advanced, than He-Man. However, the backstory seems to lend something of an explanation to this. He-Ro is apparently not native to the planet Eternia. His homeworld is not mentioned, but it's entirely possible that He-Ro's homeworld was more technologically advanced, or at least less inclined to use magic, than Eternia. The fact that Horde Supreme infected, if briefly, He-Ro with a "techno-organic virus" might lend credence to this theory, since perhaps Horde Supreme was working with whatever was on hand.

As far as that goes, Eternia's always been sort of a mixed bag of a place. Clearly they possess technology, and yet the citizens tend to dress somewhat primitively. Maybe it's just Eternian fashion.

He-Ro has relatively short, somewhat wavy dark brown hair, a distinct difference from He-Man's longer mop of blonde hair. He has blue eyes, an appropriately heroic expression on his face, and is wearing a gold headband with some sort of red jewel in it.

The figure has a separately molded, but non-removable, metallic gold chestplate. I have to say I'm impressed with the color. For whatever reason, gold seems to be a hard color for plastic producers to hit. I've seen instances where it's been too dark, looking almost tarnished, and other instances where it's too yellowish, somehow in its way looking almost cartoonish, whether that's appropriate for the toy in question or not. He-Ro's chestplate, and for that matter the rest of his torso, and his boots, are a superb color.

There is a symbol in the middle of the chestplate, a raised emblem that looks very much like a stylized letter "H", red with a dark blue background, and a gold frame. The chest plate leaves the stomach exposed, but clearly the torso underneath the armor has also been molded in gold, so it looks completely armored, and this way, allows for the mid-torso articulation point to function.

About the worst thing I can say about the chestplate armor is that it makes it very difficult for the figure to bring his arms all the way down to his sides. But he can still strike up plenty of heroic poses, so we'll call that a tradeoff.

He-Ro is not wearing a "traditional" Eternian loincloth. In its place is what appears to be further armor (and a good place for it!), that is segmented dark blue, with a mostly red belt with dark blue trim, and extremely neatly painted silver rivets and a buckle. This detail as much as anything sets He-Ro apart from most of the other Masters figures.

His boots are extremely fancy. Also clearly armored, they are gold with very intricate trim, with a bit of dark blue, and a bit of silver along the rivets and buckles. These are very nicely done and extremely impressive.

He-Ro also has two wrist shields strapped to his wrists. These are a dark silver, more like a pewter color, with some dark blue trim. Perhaps the most "primitive" part of his outfit, one wonders if he picked these up after arriving on Eternia.

The figure is also wearing a red cape. My only complaint about this is that it is an extremely stiff cape, without a lot of give in the type of plastic used. It's not too much of a hindrance to articulation, but I do sometimes wish, in this and DC Universe Classics, that Mattel would find and consistently use a more flexible plastic type. Maybe they can't. Maybe color is a factor. I just don't know.

There's an interesting emblem imprinted on the back of the cape, in a darker red, that's not easy to describe. Looking as "techno" as anything on the entire figure, it's a five-sided outline with something that almost looks like a face inside of it, with two long lines descending from the image. I have no clue as to its origin or explanation. Just what we need -- another He-Ro mystery. I did hear that this symbol appears on a grave marker near Castle Grayskull in the 2002 animated series.

Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. The Four Horsemen, the designers of this line, have really crafted the ultimate Masters of the Universe figures. He-Ro is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles. And he looks darn good with it.

He-Ro comes with two accessories. One is an interesting version of He-Man's legendary Power Sword. This one's been molded in transparent blue and has silver flecks painted on it. A lightsaber it isn't, but it's an interesting look.

The other accessory is a large power staff, actually taller than the figure itself, coming in at 7-1/2". Although not explained on the package, it is explained in the Wikipedia entry, and is apparently a derivation of an accessory intended for the original He-Ro.

He-Ro wields a "power staff", which contains a "magic crystal". Whether this staff and crystal are the source of He-Ro's magical abilities, or merely a means of channelling his own mystic power, or perhaps another scenario altogether, remains unknown. If the stone turns green he is using the Spell of Protection. If it is red, he is using the Spell of Defense. If it is purple, he is using the Spell of Healing.

The staff featured a black handle about halfway up its length, and then tapers outward into what look like four claws, seemingly protecting a sphere at the top. These claws fold outward and the sphere splits into four segments, in a very clever design, I might add, revealing the so-called "magic crystal", which looks like a multi-faceted gemstone. In this instance, it's a dark transparent purple here.

I am assuming that all of the power staffs have purple crystals, despite the origin story. Given that it's packaged "closed" and there's no way to see the crystal, I can't imagine Mattel or any other toy company being quite so sneaky-mean as to package a variant inside something that's already a considerable exclusive that there's no way to even see without opening it. In other words, I'm assuming there aren't any green or red crystals out there. In any case, it's a cool accessory.

So, what's my final word here? Hey, it's HE-RO -- never mind being the most powerful wizard in the universe, how about being one of the most long-lost characters in the entire history of Masters of the Universe, now finally brought into figure form in the best Masters of the Universe figure incarnation ever!

Granted, this figure is not easy to come by. He was a 2009 San Diego Comic-Con exclusive, with whatever supply remained being sent over to MattyCollector.Com, which I would expect has sold out by the time you read this. That doesn't make the figure impossible to find, just difficult. One thing I have had to keep in mind over the years on any number of hard to find toys. It exists. If it exists -- it can be found -- if you want it badly enough.

And any Masters of the Universe fan would want this guy. The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of HE-RO most definitely has my highest recommendation!