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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS KING HE-MAN
By Thomas Wheeler

How many versions of He-Man have there been? That's a great question, really. I can recall, during the 2002-era run of the line, a comic book was published based on that particular incarnation of the Masters of the Universe characters. And among the promotional offerings presented in the book was a large poster, an illustration of every variant of He-Man from every Masters concept to date, all charging into battle as a group. It was, quite literally, a small army. Skeletor probably would've ran off and hid as far in the depths of Snake Mountain as he could if he saw this coming, except there was also a multi-Skeletor poster that was almost as populated.

It's not surprising. As the core characters of the Masters of the Universe concept, it's inevitable that He-Man and Skeletor are going to have multiple versions over the run of any of Masters of the Universe toy lines, in order to keep them available to some degree. Now, granted, this can be carried to excess. It could be fairly argued that one of the things that killed the 2002-era line was too many He-Man and Skeletor variations, overpacked in boxes that contained far too few of the rest of the cast.

But even the original Masters of the Universe line wasn't shy on multiple versions of the core characters, and we've already seen a number of He-Man variations turn up in the Classics line. Of course, there's the original He-Man, but Battle Armor He-Man and Thunder Punch He-Man have also found their way into the line, and a New Adventures He-Man figure, based on the toy line and animated series that followed the original, is in the works. The three mini-comics produced by Dark Horse Comics to be packed in select Masters figures during 2012 finally answered a lot of the questions that fans had been pondering about the "Second Ultimate Battleground", as well as paved the way to include the New Adventures characters as part of the overall continuity.

But -- KING He-Man!? What was up with this? I was not aware of any precedent for a King He-Man. And that was hardly the only mystery. There was a sticker on the package bubble, silver and gold-like lettering on a blue background, that read "HE-RO - SON OF HE-MAN."

Okay, now I was REALLY confused. Stickers have been placed on the package bubbles for select characters in the Classics line before, generally when they represent some special faction from the original Masters of the Universe line, such as the Snake-Men or the Evil Horde, or when they represent one of the side lines that has been integrated into the overall Masters universe, and as such the Classics line. Examples of these would include the Princess of Power logo for anyone from She-Ra's line, the "Galactic Protectors" and "Space Mutants" stickers for anyone from the New Adventures line, or the Grayskull sticker for select characters from the past, that might have been part of the didn't-quite-get-too-far Preternia concept from the original line.

I was used to seeing those, and they all made sense. Even the "Galactic Protectors" logo based its look on the "He-Man" logo from the New Adventures concept. But what in the world was this "He-Ro - Son of He-Man" thing about?

There already was a character named He-Ro. He was a character from the past, and would have been part of the Preternia concept. He'd never made it into figure form in the original line, although some prototypes of him did exist, so longtime and well-informed fans knew what he was supposed to look like. Eventually, he was brought into the Classics line to great acclaim. But there was certainly no indication that he'd ever been the son of He-Man, and if he was, that was creating a rather nasty time paradox that even the Mighty Spector, the Masters' expert on time travel, would've gotten a headache over.

So, I decided to see if there were any answers on the character profile, presented on the scroll-like "bio card" on the back of King He-Man's package. I know I usually save this sort of thing for towards the end of my reviews, but in this case, I think an exception is justified.

KING HE-MAN
Heroic Ruler of Future Eternia (oh, great, here we go with varying time periods again...)

Real Name: ADAM OF THE HOUSE OF RANDOR

After his sister defeated Horde Prime, the threat of Adam's old enemy Skeletor once more called He-Man to one final battle. In an epic duel on the Jaw Bridge of the great Temple of Power on Trolla, He-Man at last defeated Skeletor in single combat. Recovering the Vortex Key, He-Man could now return to his home world. Here he found his queen mother keeping the throne and mourning the passing of King Randor. Taking his rightful place as his father's heir, Adam became King He-Man, ruling over all Eternia with his wisdom and strength. He married Teela and together with their son Dare took over his father's legacy, as the new He-Ro, defender of Eternia and the wielder of the Sword of Power.

Okay -- wow. Well, that answers a few questions, anyway, even if it opens up a few more. From the sound of that first sentence, She-Ra somehow managed to bring down the entire Horde Empire by defeating Horde Prime. There's a story yet to be told. And one has to wonder what either He-Man or Skeletor were doing on Trolla, Orko's homeworld, of all places, although there has been evidence on past bio cards that Trolla and Eternia are more closely linked than we might have otherwise guessed, and should probably be taken more seriously than we have believed.

I can see He-Man returning home and, with Skeletor defeated once and for all and with Randor having passed away, finally assuming the throne. But it's that last sentence that's the telling part: "He married Teela and together with their son Dare took over his father's legacy, as the new He-Ro, defender of Eternia and the wielder of the Sword of Power."

Whoa -- there's a surprise. Never mind the fact that one assumes at this point that Teela is still the new Sorceress. That's going to be some kid. Not sure about naming him "Dare". I mean, really. Naming a boy "Dare"? Isn't that a little like naming your boy "Go play in traffic" or "Go climb trees until you fall out of one"? It seems like it's asking for trouble.

But let's take particular note of that phrase, "NEW He-Ro." This isn't the same individual that we've known from Preternia. For one thing, his real name was Ro, not Dare. And it's certainly been established that there have been other wielders of the Sword of Power over the centuries. Vikor, Wun-Dar, and wasn't there some jungle-based He-Man named Oo-Lar or some such? Whatever happened to him? I was looking forward to getting a figure of him and finding out more about him.

So Dare takes on the name of He-Ro and becomes He-Man's successor, on top of being his son. But then this tends to beg the question -- are the people at Mattel just making stuff up at this point? I mean, there's no shortage of established characters in the Masters universe -- in all of its various incarnations -- that have yet to be turned out as figures in the Classics line. I'd like to see Rio Blast, Hydron, Two Bad -- even though I know he'd have to be a special figure. I can get behind the creation of new characters for something special like 2012's 30th Anniversary celebration, but is it really necessary now? Moreover, why set up adventures in yet another time period, one obviously beyond the New Adventures timepoint?

According to the series "bible", outlining the concept for a "He-Ro, son of He-Man" animated series out there. The series was proposed by Lou Scheimer, who was one of the Filmation executives responsible for the original animated series, which would've been produced by DIC. However, the concept was ultimately passed over in favor of The New Adventures of He-Man. According to the series "bible", the He-Ro of this series, Dare, was a Tarzan-type orphan. King Adam/He-Man would have teamed up with Dare/He-Ro for their adventures.

All of this was certainly news to me. I'd never heard of this before. But it certainly fits the profile here, with one notable exception, that of Dare being a Tarzan-type orphan. He's clearly indicated to be the biological son of He-Man and Teela on King He-Man's bio card. With luck, they're saving the Tarzan bit for Oo-Lar. But everything else fits.

So, it seems we do have an established background for King He-Man, if a slightly obscure one -- but no moreso than taking the original "barbarian" concept for He-Man and naming him Vikor to bring him into the line. Don't even get me started on Vykron...

So, how's the figure? Very impressive, and suitably regal. I suspect that what Mattel was going for here in designing the figure, assuming no previous designs existed, was to come up with someone who looked like a cross between He-Man and King Randor. While the figure might lean a little more towards Randor, the result is nevertheless a highly impressive figure.

The face sculpt certainly looks like He-Man, but his hair has not so much gone gray as just turned a much paler yellow. He has a full mustache and beard, and a scar over his left eye and down his cheek. Apparently Skeletor or somebody finally got one good shot in on him that didn't quite heal properly, although his eye looks normal, so one assumes that he didn't actually lose the use of the eye.

He's wearing a metallic gold crown, with three points, one on the front and one on the side, with a red version of his "cross" emblem on the front of the crown.

He-Man has definitely traded in his former furry loincloth and barbarian-style boots for something more futuristic-looking. He's wearing some imposing cheat armor, silver gray with metallic gold, and a huge red version of his cross-like emblem in the center of it, with a blue gemstone in the center of that. Instead of the furry loincloth, an armored section in metallic blue, gold, silver-gray, and red, descends from his waist.

His boots are similarly futuristic and sophisticated in appearance, although these are boots that have turned up on other figures before. They're silver gray, armored-looking, with metallic blue and gold detailing on the front.

King He-Man is wearing a huge blue cape, with a furry brown collar, the only evidence of fur on the entire figure. His wrist bands are traditional enough, but are metallic gold. The left one has dark brown straps.

King He-Man's arms and legs are bare. Obviously he's not entirely prepared to give up his life of adventure just yet, and wants to be ready for combat at a moment's notice.

The facial details are extremely well-painted, especially the eyes. They have blue irises, outlined in black, and have a rather piercing gaze. I believe the eyes are slightly larger than on previous, more traditional He-Man figures, but they still look good here. This is obviously an older He-Man than we have known, and people do change as they age -- although He-Man has certainly aged well.

As well, the armored details are done with great precision. This is especially impressive given the layered look of the armor itself.

Any complaints? Unfortunately, yes. It's apparent that the top of the head, which includes the crown as well as the top of King He-Man's hair, was molded separately, and attached as part of the assembly procedure. I can see why this was done, given the requirements of plastic molding and the design of the head and the crown itself. I don't have a problem with that whatsoever.

What I DO have a problem with is the fact that the crown is not properly centered. It sits a bit off-center. And based on the prototype of the figure shown on the back of the package, this is not intentional. It should have been centered.

Mine wasn't the only one this happened to. There's a rather extensive "Quality Control" thread on the message board forums for the Web Site "www.he-man.org", and this happened to quite a few people who received this figure -- but not all. Moreover, somebody showed a picture of a King He-Man that had an even worse problem -- a huge glob of paint on its nose.

Mattel -- PLEASE make an effort to deal with these kinds of things, will you? These are not inexpensive figures, and since they're only available through your online Web Site at MattyCollector.Com, we're all buying SIGHT UNSEEN. It's not as though we can go through a display of them in a retail store and make sure we're getting the best possible figure. We have to take what you send us.

This is not the first time I've encountered a quality control issue in either this, or the DC Universe Signature Series line. And it's extremely frustrating and annoying. This crown is a relatively minor issue. Some of them haven't been. Now, I, for one, would like to see both the Masters and DC lines continue for many years to come. But that's not going to happen if you don't deal with these quality control issues, and the fans and collectors get increasingly fed up with mishaps like this, and decide that it's just no longer worth it.

Mattel, you have cited price as one of the major factors to continuing these lines and getting enough subscriptions to do so -- and that's a valid point. But so is the quality of the end product. And if that slips, then fewer people are going to be inclined to pay the price. We can't see what we're getting until it shows up in the mailbox. I think we have a right to expect the highest quality product. I know that mass production isn't perfect. But it could certainly be better.

Okay, so much for my speech. Back to the figure. King He-Man comes with two accessories, a long staff with his cross-like emblem at the top, and a well-worn version of his sword which looks very much like the more ornate version of his sword which he used during the 2002-era Masters concept. It doesn't turn at the handle the way that one did, but the resemblance is definitely there. The sword has definitely seen better days. It's pitted, scarred, possibly a bit rusty, has a couple of pieces broken off (intentionally as part of the design), and looks like it's being held together with the Eternian equivalent of duct tape and optimism. It also looks like it still has some good fights left in it, and in the hands of He-Man, still isn't something you'd want to find yourself on the wrong end of.

There is also a mini-comic included with the figure. This was an interesting surprise. Also interesting is the fact that it was produced by DC Comics, not Dark Horse. This wasn't that much of a surprise, since DC Comics is now publishing a new Masters of the Universe comic book. To what degree that title's stories apply to the continuity established by the toys is probably rather marginal. I have to say that I wasn't all that impressed with DC's first story arc in the six-issue mini-series. Giving Prince Adam and his allies amnesia for five out of the first six issues, so we didn't even SEE He-Man until practically the very end, probably wasn't the best way to kick things off in my opinion.

The comic book really doesn't have anything to do with King He-Man. The story tells "The Secret Origin of Skeletor". There's nothing all that secret about it, since it's the story as we've come to know it through various tellings. Skeletor was once Keldor, the blue-skinned Gar half-brother of Randor, and through various circumstances, found himself exiled, whereupon he hooked up with Hordak, tried to take the throne by force, got a caustic chemical tossed in his face during battle, and Hordak merged him with the entity known as Demo Man to save his life, transforming him into the skull-headed Skeletor.

There are some interesting aspects to the comic book, though. The origin of Skeletor is being told by an individual named Songster, who is telling the story to a very young group of otherwise familiar individuals, including Prince Adam, Teela, Clamp Champ, Stratos, someone who looks like he could be Carnivus, and even Whiplash! Or at the very least, a representative of Whiplash's race.

One other unusual aspect to the story is when Keldor confronts the Faceless One in Zalesia in order to steal his staff. During the battle, the Faceless One appears to have some sort of vision concerning Keldor. In three panels, we see Keldor and Evil-Lyn (who is also the Faceless One's daughter) smiling and holding a blue-skinned infant. In the next panel, a worried-looking Evil-Lyn is handing the infant over to Mighty Spector, who is obviously stepping through some sort of time portal. In the final panel, we see a Skeletor-like individual, holding his staff high, with flying battleships in the background. However, the outfit doesn't quite match Skeletor's, and the last time I checked, Skeletor didn't have a spiked mohawk with a long trail of hair behind.

There's a story there, obviously, and I hope we'll get to learn it at some point. The comic book is nicely produced and has very capable artwork, but I think someone should have reminded DC Comics that they were producing a MINI-comic, because the lettering is so small you might need a magnifying glass for it.

So, what's my final word? This is an impressive, if unusual figure. It would appear that with King He-Man, Mattel is opening up yet another branch of the Masters universe, especially with the "He-Ro - Son of He-Man" logo on the package. But it's not, apparently, some entirely new branch just brought in out of the ether. It has a certain amount of history behind it, even if that history went largely unrealized in its initial form. But I don't really have a problem with that. What the heck, if they can make figures of characters like Vikor and Demo Man, then I don't have a problem with King He-Man. We'll see where this branch leads, and to what degree it's connected to that sequence in the mini-comic.

The crooked crown on the figure is an issue, if not all that serious a one, I suppose, except from the standpoint of it being reflective of the fact that Mattel does have some increasing quality control issues with their online-offered mail-order figures that they seriously need to deal with, especially if they and we want there to be a good and long future for these lines -- and I think both we and they want that.

However, that aside, this is a truly impressive figure, that speaks of a very interesting future for He-Man, and certainly the scar on his face and the condition of his sword would indicate that it wasn't an easy future to achieve, and I believe that any Masters fan will be pleased to add this figure to their collection. I know that I'm glad to have him.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of KING HE-MAN definitely has my highest recommendation!