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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS KELDOR
By Thomas Wheeler

In basic principle, the Masters of the Universe Classics line can, and has figures derived from four established sources -- those characters affiliated with the original Masters, those from the New Adventures of He-Man, those from the She-Ra: Princess of Power line, and those from the 2002 Masters concept.

So then we have this figure of KELDOR. Technically, this is a representation of Skeletor before he became Skeletor. Arguably, this character did not appear as such until the 2002 animated series, and a special edition figure of him was made during the run of that line. However, there is evidence that Skeletor's pre-Skeletor form as Keldor was to some degree recognized by the original concept. It was just -- pardon a really bad pun given the nature of the character -- fleshed out a lot more in the 2002 concept.

To learn about the character of Keldor, we have to study the history of Skeletor, of course. Some online research reveals the details, even if clarification is left somewhat debatable.

Skeletor is, of course, the primary villain in the Masters of the Universe concept. Traditionally depicted as a muscular blue-skinned humanoid wearing a purple hood that partially covers a yellowish skull-like head, Skeletor seeks to take over Castle Grayskull, so he can learn its secrets, through which he hopes to conquer all of Eternia.

The 2002 animated series confirms that Skeletor was once a man named Keldor, although an official familial connection between Keldor and King Randor is never established. However, on the audio commentary for the first volume of DVD releases for the series, it is stated that Keldor/Skeletor is indeed Randor's half-brother.

The early mini-comics included with the original toys aren't really much help here, but granted for many fans, their continuity has been discounted in favor of the original Filmation animated series. In these mini-comics, Skeletor was originally an inhabitant of another dimension, populated with others of "his kind". During "The Great Wars", a hole was opened in the dimensional wall and Skeletor was thrown from his world into Eternia. Significantly different from the later characterization of Skeletor as a unique being, the villain's initial motivation in the early stories is to reopen the rift between his world and Eternia, thus allowing his race to invade and conquer Eternia alongside him.

In the 1980's Filmation series, Skeletor is revealed as former pupil of Hordak, leader of the Evil Horde, once that character is introduced into the series. When Hordak and the Evil Horde invaded Eternia and stormed the palace, Hordak broke in and kidnapped one of the King and Queen's twin babies. Man-at-Arms and the Royal Guard captured Hordak's apprentice and forced him to divulge the whereabouts of his master. Hordak opened a random dimensional portal (later revealed to have led to Etheria), and escaped with the baby, who would become Adora, and later She-Ra. Skeletor remained on Eternia and eventually raised a small army of powerful minions of his own, and took over Snake Mountain, the one-time base of his former master, Hordak. No mention of Keldor was ever made during the course of the animated series, and Skeletor was never portrayed as looking like anything other than he always had.

It is with the post-series mini-comics that things start to get interesting. These comics carried on with the continuity of the animated series, although there are occasional contradictions. It is here that it is first hinted that Skeletor is in fact someone named Keldor, and also King Randor's long-lost brother.

This inference occurs specifically in the 1986 mini-comic titled "The Search for Keldor", a story that involves Prince Adam and Randor searching for Randor's long-lost brother Keldor. When Skeletor learns of their quest, he muses that "they must never discover the secret of Keldor", as the truth will lead to his destruction.

In this story King Randor announces that Keldor disappeared years ago. "He thought to master magic. When his experiments went wrong he was lost in a dimension beyond time!" This managed to maintain the notion that Skeletor had come to Eternia from another dimension, even though the Keldor-Skeletor connection had not been confirmed as yet. It is likely that Randor's statement about Keldor disappearing into another dimension was an attempt to reconcile Skeletor being He-Man's uncle with his previously established extra-Eternian origin. One has to keep in mind that, early on, and during the course of the Filmation series, full origin stories and comprehensive backstories were not the priority that they were with other popular concepts of the time, such as G.I. Joe and Transformers.

To find out what happened to Keldor, Randor and the Sorceress attempt to peer through the dimensional veil. Randor announces, "I think I see Keldor, or is it -- " But before he can see anything else, Skeletor appears, determined to stop them from finding out anything further. Although Skeletor is defeated, he is able to prevent Randor from discovering Keldor's fate.

Skeletor's frantic effort to cover up what happened to Keldor, combined with the fact that Keldor vanished into another dimension when attempting to become a master sorcerer, is taken as a strong indication that the two characters are one and the same. However, the original toy line came to an end before the matter could be fully disclosed and resolved.

Steven Grant, a writer on the mini-comic in question, stated in an interview on a popular Masters fan site, that, "As far as I can remember, Keldor was Skeletor... But I don't think that was ever going to be revealed. I seem to remember it as one of those things that Mattel came up with out of the blue... His back-story wasn't really worked out. Some sort of evil cosmic energies altered him. I think they were going for a Darth Vader thing, but it was a tack-on... The main idea was that if they found out Skeletor was Keldor, they'd be able to find out what had changed him and might find some way to reverse it."

In the continuity of the 2002 animated series, Skeletor's original name is definitely Keldor. However, reconciling Keldor as Randor's brother proved to be difficult, given the fact that Keldor had blue skin and some other slightly non-human features while still Keldor, whereas Randor appeared entirely human. In another interview, one of the producers of the 2002 series revealed that Keldor was the half-brother of Randor; they have different mothers.

As to how Keldor became Skeletor, the 2002 series gives us the most direct portrayal of these events. It is shown that Skeletor was formerly a warlord that trained in the dark arts as Keldor. He was trained in these ways by summoning Hordak, who was trapped in a dark dimension known as Despondos. He then gathered a small band of warriors to attack the Hall of Wisdom. They encountered resistance from then-Captain Randor and his officers. Keldor fought Randor personally, wielding two swords with astounding proficiency, but when Randor disarmed him, Keldor threw a vial of acid at him. Randor deflected it with his shield, and the acid splashed on Keldor's face.

A retreat was called, and Evil-Lyn took the grievously wounded Keldor to Hordak's sanctuary, where Keldor summoned Hordak to save his life. Keldor agreed to pay whatever price Hordak wished for his life. Hordak transformed him, stripping the damaged tissues from his skull and dubbing him Skeletor. Keldor's head had been completely stripped of tissue, leaving only a bare skull, even though Skeletor was able to survive in this state, and can clearly see, hear, breathe, eat, etc. When Keldor saw his new appearance, he laughed maniacally, the incident perhaps shattering whatever sanity he had left.

The 2002 series is notable for being a lot edgier than the original Filmation series, and Skeletor distinctly nastier. In the series, he destroys Hordak's sanctuary to prevent him from returning. He didn't want to free Hordak from Despondos because he wanted Eternia for himself. Had the series continued into the third season, it would have seen Skeletor and He-Man dealing with the return of Hordak and his Evil Horde.

Just to muddy the waters of Keldor's back-story a little further, the scroll-like file card on the back of Keldor's package, which I will relate in full closer to the end of this review, indicates that part of how Hordak managed to save Keldor's life and transform him into Skeletor was by merging him with a being known as "Demo-Man". That threw me off a bit and I wondered if I'd blinked during the 2002 animated series or some such. I'd never heard the name "Demo-Man".

As it turns out, "Demo-Man" -- complete with a "TM" after it on the card, no less -- was the original planned name for Skeletor, way back in the original line. In one sense, I can see this, as Skeletor's basic description called him the "Lord of Destruction". But, let's also face it, "Demo-Man" isn't the most memorable name around. I think we owe a considerable debt of gratitude to whoever it was that came up with the name "Skeletor" back in the early 80's. As to whether Mattel decides to produce a specific Demo-Man figure at some point and what that character might look like, I have no idea.

So, after all of that, how's the figure? Very impressive, and very interesting. There never was a Keldor figure in the original line, although there was one in the 2002 line. Now, if I were to describe the original Masters of the Universe line, I'd probably say that it worked well for the time, but by modern standards probably comes across as a little bit comical. The bodily proportions of most of the figures are a little peculiar, and they've all got that rather bow-legged look to them, which you really can't do much about, since the articulation is pretty limited.

The 2002 line certainly brought better overall bodily proportions into the line, even though it strangely didn't do much for the articulation. However, the 2002 line also brought far greater stylizing into the character design, which some have said went a little too far, with the figures sometimes being too pre-posed and looking a bit too "anime" for their own good. Although I've never had any significant complaints to voice over the 2002 line, I do agree that these are valid comments, especially in light of the modern Classics line.

I tend to see the Masters of the Universe Classics line as the ultimate Masters line. It is respectful to the original line, without any of its hindrances. It has the detail level of the 2002 line without going too far into what might be argued as excessive stylizing. There is a good, consistent look to it. The figures are well proportioned, many of them looking like they've stepped right out of the original animated series, which for all of its limited storytelling and frequent use of stock footage, nevertheless had excellent design elements. And you really can't argue the articulation. Really, the Masters of the Universe Classics line takes the original characters, and brings them into the modern-day toy world while still being respectful to their origins.

So with someone like Keldor, what you have is a figure that looks like a modern-day version of the figure had he existed in the original line, which he did not, while still being respectful to the character as he appeared during the 2002 series -- no easy trick. But there's also no question that it looks entirely like Keldor, and the Four Horsemen design and sculpting team is to be greatly commended for their work on this figure.

The most obvious difference between Skeletor and Keldor is the head. Although blue-skinned, Keldor's head is generally human in appearance, even if it's not the friendliest visage I've ever seen. Keldor has somewhat arched eyebrows, slightly pointed ears, long black hair, and a rather villainous-looking mustache and goatee. He has a smile on his face, but it's of a type that, by comparison, would make a used car salesman's grin look downright compassionate.

Keldor is also wearing a long purple cape, something that the Skeletor figure definitely doesn't have. However, here with have the most obvious carryover from the 2002 series. In that animated series, Skeletor was in the habit of wearing a cape. Technically, the original 2002 Skeletor figure did not have a cape, but a later statue of the character did, so within that concept, it made sense for Keldor to carry the cape over as Skeletor, and for Keldor to have a cape here. Technically, the cape is removable if you want to have your Skeletor figure wear it.

Beyond this, what's interesting to note are some of the moderately more subtle differences between Keldor and Skeletor. Most obvious is the fact that Keldor is a visibly brighter shade of blue than Skeletor. Now, some might decry this as a horrible inconsistency or a grievous error. While I don't have a direct explanation for it, I figure this -- you get acid tossed in your face and then merged with some unknown entity called Demo-Man in order to save your life, even though what you see in the mirror in the morning is pretty horrific -- it's going to have an effect on you.

Keldor is dressed almost identically to Skeletor, as one would expect. He has the purple harness with the bone-like insignia in the center, and the flared shoulders; the black loincloth with the purple belt and the little flared ares up front, and the tops of his boots are the same as Skeletor's as well.

But there are differences, and they can be chalked up to -- not wardrobe choices -- but the other differences in the physical structure between Skeletor and Keldor. Skeletor has these strange, three-toed, clawed feet. Keldor does not. His feet, apparently rather normal, are covered by boots. Skeletor has rather long, almost claw-like fingers, and two strange flares on each lower arm. Keldor's hands are normal (although he's painted his fingernails black for some odd reason), and he does not have the strange flares on his arms. As such, he is wearing purple wristbands, which Skeletor does not have.

I am starting to be of the distinct opinion that the introduction of this enigmatic Demo-Man was less for the purpose of giving a "TM" to a previously unused name that might actually see future use, as well as bringing in one additional aspect of the character's rather convoluted background, and was brought in more to explain the differences between Keldor and Skeletor beyond the obvious facial one.

Additionally, if we're to continue to accept that Keldor is Randor's half-brother, then one has to assume that, skin color notwithstanding, his race and Randor's must be genetically very close (although on Eternia that's probably open to more interpretation than I want to consider), and as such probably doesn't allow for things like weird feet and arm flares.

As for his accessories, Keldor comes with two swords, which can be snapped together as one, as well as a small vial which is intended to represent the acid which he threw at Randor during their fight, but which backfired so very badly on him. This is actually one of the smallest Masters accessories I've ever seen, and as I sometimes do with small accessories from other, generally smaller action figure lines, such as Star Wars or G.I. Joe, I would personally recommend putting this into a Ziploc bag with Keldor's name on it.

Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. Keldor is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles. This is definitely one of the aspects that really sets the Masters of the Universe Classics line above any of its predecessors.

The paint work is excellent on the entire figure, and very neatly carried out. I'm extremely impressed.

The back-story on the package -- another feature which I have certainly been very impressed with in this line -- reads as follows:

KELDOR - Apprentice of Hordak
Real Name: Keldor of the House of Miro

Banished from the royal palace, in part due to distrust for the rare blue-skinned Gar race, Prince Keldor became an outcast. He traveled Eternia seeking knowledge and guidance, eventually discovering the ancient Spirit of Hordak. From him, Keldor learned of the dark arts and came to realize that to truly unite Eternia, he would need to take command of the planet itself. He gathered an army of fellow outcasts and led them in battle against his brother, Captain Randor. Eventually defeated, and near death, Keldor once again turned to Hordak who, in exchange for his own freedom, agreed to save Keldor's life by merging him with Demo-Man, twisting Keldor into Skeletor, Lord of Destruction!

Overall, a fair summary of Keldor's most prominent adventure, although one does sort of wonder what the "rare, blue-skinned Gar race" did to merit distrust to the point of a legitimate Prince being banished -- especially when you consider the astounding variety of sentient life on Eternia.

One other observation, that "Keldor of the House of Miro". That's a nice little connection, since if you look at the scroll card for King Randor, he is listed as "Randor of the House of Miro".

So, what's my final word here? Well, some may seem this Keldor figure as perhaps not necessary. After all, within the storyline, Keldor is far better known as Skeletor, and has certainly caused more trouble as such. He is likely more powerful as Skeletor, as well. But as I see it, it's still a very interesting and very well-made figure who represents a vital part of the history of the storyline. There have been other characters, such as Tytus, or King Grayskull, whose cards explain that they do not exist in whatever "present day" the Masters' adventures take place, and yet it would be a shame not to have their figures. Keldor is as legitimate an addition to the Masters line as any of them, and any Masters fan should welcome him into their collection.

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