REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS MAN-AT-ARMS
Mattel's MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS line is proving to be a considerable hit, to the point where even after I ordered this particular figure, he took long enough to show up, and I get the impression I got bumped to a back order list. However, I did eventually acquire him.
Perhaps I shouldn't be that surprised. After all, MAN-AT-ARMS is one of the major players in the concept, and always has been. The only thing that really surprised me is that it took as long as it did for Mattel to work him into the line, which has been running now since late 2008, and shows no sign of slowing down -- which is fine with me.
What intention Mattel may have initially had for Man-At-Arms in the toy line is unknown. However, the animated series quickly turned him into something of a father-figure and wise, experienced adviser for Prince Adam/He-Man. Indeed, he was one of very few people who knew the secret that the two were the same. This, not surprisingly, placed Man-At-Arms at the top of the heap of Masters of the Universe characters.
I always thought his name was somewhat peculiar, though. "Man-At-Arms". It didn't quite roll off the tongue like "He-Man" or "Skeletor", or even some of the other character names along the way. Eventually, I filled in something of a deficiency in my historical education, when I learned that the name "man-at-arms" is one of the few names in the Masters of the Universe -- uh, universe -- with a legitimate historical context, and a fairly interesting one, dating back to medieval times.
Since I've never been terribly good at writing historical essays, though, I'll leave this up to Wikipedia.
Man-at-arms (also called armsman or coistrel) was a medieval term for a soldier, almost always a professional. It was a term relating to service as a fully armored heavy cavalryman. It could refer to knights or noblemen, or to members of their retinues, who were well-equipped and well-trained (deriving from having men under arms—meaning to be trained in the use of arms) when serving as armored cavalrymen. The terms knight and man-at-arms are often used interchangeably, but while all knights certainly were men-at-arms, not all men-at-arms were knights.
Particularly in England, and due to the military hierarchy of medieval Europe, and the importance of the knight in the European Feudal system, professional soldiers were of great importance and social significance. The military equipment of the time was highly expensive, and high-quality wargear such as a mail hauberk represented a huge investment. Therefore a professional soldier who wore full metal gear to battle (including a helm and coif) was a representation of wealth and status. The more well equipped men a knight had in his retinue, the better his local standing. Due to the endemic in-fighting and civil disruptions of the 12th–14th Centuries, in the Hundred Years' War and across the borderlands of Scotland and Wales, military status was incredibly important, and could assure the survival of some families.
The term man-at-arms primarily denoted a military function, rather than a social rank. The military function that a man-at-arms performed was serving as a fully armored heavy cavalryman; though he could, and in English armies often did, also fight on foot. The man-at-arms could be a wealthy mercenary of any social origins, but more often had some level of social rank based on income, usually from land.
A sergeant-at-arms, an esquire (a man wealthy enough to be a knight but who was not because he did not want the costs and responsibilities of that rank), a knight bachelor, a knight banneret and all grades of nobility usually served as men-at arms when called to war. Although the social structure of the Norman society of England was generally static, the easiest manner for a man to attain social rank and improve his standing was through military service, as the Norman states, unlike the Germanic ones, believed in knighting men of common birth who demonstrated nobility and courage on the field. Although this was rare, it was known, and therefore some non-knightly men-at-arms could advance socially to the status knights if they performed a great notable deed and received reward.
The knighting of squires and men-at-arms was sometimes done in an ignoble manner, simply to increase the number of knights within an army (such practice was common during the Hundred Year's War). In chivalric theory any knight could bestow knighthood on another, however, in practice this was usually done by sovereigns and the higher nobility.
A knight was technically a man-at-arms, but a man-at-arms was not necessarily a knight. In this way it was understood that a person referred to merely as a "man-at-arms" was a man of the higher echelon of the military scale, but was neither of noble birth nor a knight himself. By this time, the term was only ever used to refer to professional soldiers, usually of a distinctly higher order than archers or Billmen and serving in the same tactical role as knights.
The fully armored man-at-arms was gradually replaced in the course of the 16th century by later cavalry types.
How does this reflect on the character of Man-At-Arms from the Masters of the Universe world? Well, if you think about it, the designation does fit. While we don't really know that much about Man-At-Arms' background prior to meeting him in the animated series, although the new file card for the character does expound on this to a substantial degree, we do know that in both the 1980's and 2002 animated series, Man-At-Arms served as Captain of the Guard under King Randor, arguably the most prominent royalty on all of Eternia. That's a pretty high place to be. And it seems unlikely that he was born to it. Rather, he more than likely worked his way up to it.
And, in fairness, for all of its color and gadgetry, and bizarre characters, there is, obviously, a certain medieval overtone to the Masters' world.
Let's turn our attention now to Man-At-Arms, the individual. Although used only sporadically, and more often than not by King Randor, Man-At-Arms' real name is Duncan. In the 1980's animated series, he was voiced to great effect by Alan Oppenheimer, who did quote a few voices for the show, including Skeletor and Cringer. Man-At-Arms was probably a break for him not having to strain his voice, since Man-At-Arms sounded most like Oppenheimer himself. Oppenheimer's vocal tones, and his position of authority over both Prince Adam and Teela, his adopted daughter, gave Man-At-Arms a somewhat fatherly personality.
Although the 1980's animated series wasn't known for carrying over a lot of extended continuity and storylines, one that it did tend to carry over was the backstory of Teela, Man-At-Arms, and the Sorceress. Teela was in fact Man-At-Arms adopted daughter. What she didn't know was that her real mother was in fact the Sorceress.
This was, to a degree, a convenient way within the show of explaining the two characters of Teela and the Sorceress, since when the Teela toy was first released, technically, she was billed as a sorceress. In the animated series, she showed no magical abilities, and in fact was a soldier much like her father, and a constant thorn in Prince Adam's side, whom she saw as a lazy slacker, having no idea he was also He-Man.
The separate character of the Sorceress was largely created for the animated series, and looked almost nothing like Teela, either the animated version or the more armored toy version. In fact it was several years before a Sorceress figure resembling the animated character was manufactured. In one notable episode, the story of how Man-At-Arms became Teela's adoptive father was told.
Says Wikipedia: The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull asked Man-At-Arms to adopt Teela because she felt that she could not raise her daughter and protect Castle Grayskull at the same time, begging: "Please, take care of my daughter. She is all I have left." Man-At-Arms complied: "She will always be safe with me for as long as I live."
The 2002 version of Man-At-Arms was very similar to his 1980's counterpart, as was his backstory, but there were some differences.
Wikipedia notes: "The 2002 cartoon portrays Duncan as a much more serious and darker character..." But really, the same could be said about just about anybody in the 2002 series.
Wikipedia also notes that Man-At-Arms had more of a connection to the Sorceress than was previously shown. As in the Filmation series, Man-At-Arms is Teela's adoptive father, but he is also depicted as an officer with the definite rank of General instead of the undefined, but still high-echelon position he holds in the Filmation cartoon. Likewise, Man-At-Arms has a close mentor/student relationship with Adam in addition to aiding He-Man and leading the Masters (as the Heroic Warriors are called in the 2002 version). It is also revealed that he is the brother of Fisto. It also revealed Duncan's mentor, Dekker.
A lot of this was new information. The Filmation series never made any relationship between Man-At-Arms and Fisto, who was at best a supporting player during a time of considerable character expansion during the original run of the toy line, a level of expansion that was not matched by the 2002 series (but which I sincerely hope will be, eventually, with the Classics line). The character of Dekker was also a new aspect to Man-At-Arms' background, but it stands to reason that someone had to train him. Most other aspects of Man-At-Arms' personality and his relationship to the other characters seemed to maintain pretty much between one and the other.
One thing -- Man-At-Arms in the 2002 series was voiced by Gary Chalk, who had also voiced Optimus Prime in some of the more recent Transformers animated shows, including Beast Wars. He has a very distinctive voice, and let me tell you, it was a weird experience hearing a voice I was used to hearing come out of a robot, coming out of someone who looked more distinctly human. Kept expecting him to suggest calling in more Autobots to fight Skeletor or something...
So, how's the figure? As usual, extremely impressive. What's that second head doing in the package? Well, there's a little more history for you.
The original Man-At-Arms figure didn't have a mustache. This was something that was added by Filmation, to, as Wiki explains, "make him look older, wiser and more fatherly." In all of these aspects, it certainly succeeded.
I used to have an original Man-At-Arms figure, and I tried to paint the mustache on it. This did not work terribly well. The 2002 Man-At-Arms figure went with the mustache, period. The Classics figure gives you the option. Given that in the 1980's, I tended to pay more attention to the animated series than the toys, I'm used to Man-At-Arms having a mustache, so that's the head I expect to leave in place on this figure. Your preference may vary.
The figure's overall color scheme is basically the same as the original, but darker. The green of the uniform is especially darker, but it looks good, and the yellow-orange-gold armor is also somewhat darker, as is the blue helmet and trim.
Man-At-Arms is fairly heavily armored, with armor that seems very technologically designed. It's an interesting matching of the medieval air of the Masters concept, but at the same time, technology is not at all unknown to the Eternians. This is perhaps best reflected in Man-At-Arms.
It's been noted that both of the animated series have shown "royal guards", for lack of a better term, or perhaps "King Randor's army", outfitted similarly to Man-At-Arms himself, with the green bodysuit and the blue helmet, but lacking the more extensive, individualistic armor that Man-At-Arms himself wears. Whether this is a privilege of rank, or perhaps an exercise of Man-At-Arms' own technical design expertise, is open for discussion.
Most notable is the torso armor. This includes a face shield, as well as numerous technological details, which have been very intricately painted. There is black painted fur sculpted around the arm holes in the armor. The back of the armor includes clips for Man-At-Arms gun, club, and a short sword.
The file card for Man-At-Arms does its best to reconcile all aspects of the character -- both of the animated series and presumably some of the early mini-comics, as well. It reads as follows:
For two centuries, the Eternian weapons master and combat instructor to the royal family has been called the "Man-At-Arms." Trained by the renowned tactician Dekker and a veteran of the Great Unrest, Duncan was asked by King Randor to step into this position and fortify his guard with an elite strike force, which he named The Masters of the Universe. In addition to his skills in combat, Duncan is also a great inventor and helped construct an electronic version of the Power Sword for Adam to use until he could unite both halves of the sword of King Grayskull. Man-At-Arms and his adopted daughter Teela often scout the borders of Eternia for signs of lurking evil.
Now, that's interesting in a number of respects. For one thing, obviously I'm pleased to see the use of the name "Duncan". Man-At-Arms is one of the few characters to have an established "real name" in the entire concept. Granted, if Mattel had called him anything else, Masters fans probably would have rioted.
Another point: only in the 2002 animated series did the good guys ever refer to themselves -- in-concept -- as the Masters of the Universe... which if you think about it is pretty egotistical.
However, at the same time, we have the reference to "both halves" of the sword of "King Grayskull" -- never mind this electronic version of the Power Sword. That "both halves" thing seems to emanate from the early mini-comics, and yet the character of "King Grayskull" wasn't mentioned until the 2002 animated series. I'm really not sure what to make of that, OR the electronic version of the Power Sword.
The electronic Power Sword was something developed for the 2002 line. The original intent was that Skeletor had obtained both halves of the Power Sword, which is why it splits in two, and one half has an evil looking purple hilt, and the other has a heroic gold hilt. The Sorceress and Man-At-Arms used magic and technology to create a new sword for Adam/He-Man to use until he reclaimed the real Sword of Grayskull. Mattel loved the new He-Man sword so much that they vetoed the the whole backstory and just made the new design Power Sword.
Interestingly, one of Man-At-Arms' accessories is a silver sword that looks very much like the very ornate sword that the 2002 He-Man had, which was much more ornate than the original. There are various pushbuttons sculpted onto its handle. This is clearly intended to be the "electronic Power Sword."
Perhaps Man-At-Arms' best known accessory is his club, which he definitely has here. Somewhere between a club and a mace, this object has a narrow handle, a wider area in the middle, and a rather bulbous top with a band around it that has circular "points" extending from it. And it looks like it would be quite painful if it conked you on the cranium.
Of course, the figure's articulation is excellent. Man-At-Arms is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot top swivel, and ankles.
Interestingly, the elbow articulation required a slight modification to the heavy armor on the left arm. The original Man-At-Arms figure did not have elbow articulation, so the armor piece could be molded as a single piece. Here, it had to be done as a two-piece. But it still looks great.
I sort of suspect the Four Horsemen sculpting team had a lot of fun with Man-At-Arms. The detail level on all of his armor is really just outstandingly spectacular, and it's all been painted very well, too. The fur probably could have been done a little more neatly, but it's hard to complain when you take a look at all the little rivets and hoses and such that have been painted.
The face is also very nicely done, too, on both the mustached and clean-shaven versions.
So, what's my final word here? Heck, it's Man-At-Arms, one of the lead characters of the concept. What Masters fan WOULDN'T want him? Given how long it took for him to show up, I suspect a lot more did than even Mattel expected.
By the time you read this review, it's entirely likely that he'll have been sold out from MattyCollector.Com, but there are other ways to obtain this figure. And certainly if you're any sort of Masters fan, you'll want him. He's really one of the outstanding figures in an already outstanding line.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of MAN-AT ARMS definitely has my highest recommendation!