REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS PANTHOR
Being a pet owner is a considerable responsibility. Granted, I've never been one myself. I don't think I'd make a very good pet owner. However much affection and companionship a pet may offer, they do tend to be expensive, and certainly require attention of their own. And, I've heard a few too many horror stories about what pets have been known to do to action figures.
I tend to think that if I were to have a pet, I would prefer a cat to a dog. No offense to dog owners out there. Each to their own. But I've had some unpleasant encounters with dogs over the years, and I've never had a cat give me any trouble. And while I've never owned a cat, I've known a few from some neighbors of mine.
Still, I am content to leave the care and feeding of pets to others. It is a considerable responsibility and commitment, and one that, as I said before, I just don't think I'd be all that good at.
Which, odd as it sounds, does serve as a lead-in to this review, begging the question -- what in the world (ours or Eternia, take your pick) ever led someone like Skeletor to adopt a cat!? I mean, if I'm not really a pet person, how the heck does someone like ol' Bone-Face qualify? Because based on the history presented on the package, that's pretty much what he did with the ferocious feline known as PANTHOR!
In the original Masters of the Universe line, there were two large cats -- Battle Cat and Panthor. The first was owned by He-Man, and was certainly the more prominent of the two, especially thanks to the Filmation animated series. Just as He-Man's secret identity was that of Prince Adam, so Battle Cat's secret identity was Cringer, a large green tiger with orange stripes, who as much as anything liked to take naps -- when it wasn't mealtime. He was also a craven coward who really didn't want anything to do with He-Man's dangerous adventures, but more often than not, when Prince Adam raised his sword and proclaimed "By the Power of Grayskull!", thus transforming himself into He-Man, the next being on the receiving end of the Sword's power was Cringer, generally seen shaking like a leaf, until growing to about twice his original size, picking up a helmet and an armored saddle, and no small amount of courage to face whatever challenge He-Man himself was up against.
In both forms, Battle Cat could speak intelligently. As Cringer, he tended to whine. As Battle Cat, his voice became more gruff and growly. In the 2002 animated series, neither Cringer nor Battle Cat could speak, but they still had the same personalities as before, with Cringer having a tendency to meow like a scared kitten when the prospect of being turned into Battle Cat was upon him.
The original Battle Cat toy was a large piece of non-poseable plastic, with a removable helmet and saddle. Somewhere along the way, someone at Mattel decided that Skeletor should have a feline companion as well -- and besides, it would be a good second use of the molds. Enter Panthor.
The original Panthor used the same molds as Battle Cat, predictably, except the toy was not only molded in purple, it was flocked! Panthor was given a coating of velvety purple fur.
Panthor didn't get nearly the media time of Battle Cat, at least not in the original series. Unlike He-Man, who actually rode Battle Cat, Skeletor seemed disinclined to use Panthor as an actual steed, and generally speaking, Panthor was not drawn as being large enough for Skeletor to have done so anyway. Panthor, on those rare occasions when he turned up, seemed content to sit at Skeletor's feet in the throne room of Snake Mountain, and occasionally raise his head and snarl or roar at some of Skeletor's minions who might have worked up the nerve to question some aspect of Skeletor's plans. Nothing like having a large and presumably vicious purple panther backing you up to get your point across and have everyone in the room agree with you.
The 2002 animated series treated Panthor a bit better. Here, he was occasionally ridden by Skeletor, and was generally portrayed as larger, and even more vicious. Granted, the entire series was edgier than its Filmation predecessor. Panthor also tended to turn up more often. I'm trying to recall offhand if Battle Cat and Panthor ever had a one on one fight with each other. Granted I have not seen the entirety of the 2002 Mike Young Productions series. But honestly, I'd be surprised if the two big cats DIDN'T meet at some point and try to tear the heck out of each other.
Both Battle Cat and Panthor also made their way into the 2002-era action figure line as well. Although much as before, there wasn't a lot of articulation. The toys were larger and better detailed than they had been in the original run, and Panthor was still flocked. They were moderate improvements over the originals, at least.
So now we come to the Masters of the Universe Classics line. Super detail, and super articulation. And it didn't really take all that long for Battle Cat to find his way into the line as one of a series of periodic "larger" offerings that turn up every few months on MattyCollector.Com, which have also included the likes of Tytus, Gygor, and a few others.
This time around, to great delight if no great surprise, Battle Cat was superbly articulated. He was phenomenally detailed, and highly poseable. He came with his helmet and saddle, and was a huge hit with the fans. Those same fans also started to ask -- Okay, so where's Panthor?
It's taken a while, but Skeletor's pet purple panther has finally joined the Classics line. However, of immediate note is the fact that he isn't flocked. This has created some amount of controversy among the fans. But it just wasn't feasible. This Panthor is larger than either of his predecessors, and the articulation is a complication as well. Keep in mind that we barely got a flocked Moss Man in this line. Whatever the procedures are for flocking, one would surmise that they haven't changed overmuch in decades, and it's still a somewhat tricky practice that has its down sides. You can flock a G.I. Joe's head, but if that head gets wet, he's going to shed. And working the flocking around articulation joints is not an easy thing to do either. As the original Masters of the Universe figures were not overly articulated, it worked for them. It's tougher today.
Personally, the lack of flocking doesn't bother me a bit, for several reasons. Flocking would obscure the magnificent sculpted detail of Panthor, and I think that would be a shame. They probably wouldn't have been able to flock readily around the articulation joints -- they certainly weren't able to on Moss Man -- which likely would have left Panthor with something resembling a poodle cut. That's an image I'd just as soon not consider for too long. And alas, sometimes flocking does just plain wear off. Another reason I don't have pets is that they tend to shed. I don't need my action figures shedding. An unflocked Panthor is one exception to historical accuracy that I am more than willing to make.
Given his lack of prominence in most outside media, a full backstory for Panthor has never really been created to my knowledge. Where in the world did Skeletor get him? I regarded it as doubtful that Skeletor just dropped by the Eternia Humane Society Animal Shelter and picked him out. And given the variety of life forms on Eternia, can you imagine what their Animal Shelter must be like to begin with? Besides which, I doubt that any reputable Animal Shelter would regard Skeletor as a good candidate for pet ownership, anyway.
Fortunately, the back of Panthor's box gives us something of an explanation into his history. I usually wait until closer to the end of my reviews before providing these, but I think we need to answer these questions sooner than later, and this is the best way. The scroll-like "bio card" on Panthor's box reads as follows:
PANTHOR - Savage Cat of Skeletor
During his exile from Eternos Palace, Keldor saved a young dylinx cub from a hunter's pit in the Corridors of Lithos. The cub remained fiercely loyal to Keldor, who named him "Panthor" after a tribal story his Gar mother told him as a child. The purple-skinned feline remained with Keldor even after he was transformed into the Lord of Destruction by Hordak's magic. Finding a new home in Snake Mountain, Panthor is forever at his master's side, carrying him into battle or curled up at the foot of Skeletor's throne, loyally growling at any who disagree with the Overlord of Evil.
Well, the last part of that last sentence certainly applies to Panthor as he briefly appeared in the original series, and the explanation is certainly sound enough, but it does leave a wide-open "Why?" Why did Keldor rescue the cub? It seems out of character. One has to assume that somewhere within Keldor was a small spark of decency that flared up at the right moment for him to rescue the cub from the hunter's pit.
So, how's the toy? Well -- it's big. Panthor measures slightly over a foot in length from nose to tail. This in a line where an average sized humanoid is about seven inches. That's a big kitty!
The toy is a recoloration of Battle Cat, of course, so the facial resemblance to an actual panther is limited. Then again, based on the bio card, Panthor is not an actual panther. He's an Eternian species of large feline called a "dylinx", whatever that is. One has to assume that the relationship between the name Skeletor gave him, "Panthor", and actual Earth panthers is coincidental. In the original animated series, Panthor was drawn to more closely resemble a panther, but in any of the Masters toy lines, Panthor has been a recoloration of Battle Cat, right down to the decidedly un-panther-like facial whiskers. So as much as anything, Panthor tends to look like a large, purple, stripe-less tiger. Which is probably as good a definition of a "dylinx" as any.
Panthor, like all Masters of the Universe Classics figures, has been designed and sculpted by the masters of this craft, the Four Horsemen. And if there is one thing I have observed about the Four Horsemen, it's that as masterful as they are at all areas of design and sculpting for action figures, one thing they seem to especially excel in far more than most -- is sculpted fur. I'm not sure why. I'm not a sculptor. I don't know if fur is easier or harder to sculpt than, say, a muscular humanoid body. Certainly it's more detailed, just by its very nature. And it would certainly create a more complicated mold for the actual production of the toy. But if you take a look at the sculpted fur items that the Four Horsemen have rendered for Mattel -- Battle Cat, Panthor, Gygor, Beast Man, Gorilla Grodd, Giganta's costume, B'wana Beast's loincloth -- okay, you get the idea. But all have been expertly rendered. The Four Horsemen have understood that sculpting fur is more than just carving little lines into the sculpt. It needs to have a direction. It needs to flow with the design of the body itself. And I haven't seen it done better than they've done it, and certainly Panthor is a superb example.
The fur seems relatively thin on the top of the head and around the face, gradually extending into bushy fur on the sides of the face. It tapers to thin again over the top of the body, but is somewhat shaggier on the underside of the neck, leading towards the chest. The fur on the majority of the body maintains a fairly even sculpted depth, with a distinct and appropriate direction backwards across the entire animal. The fur is somewhat shaggier on the backs of the front legs.
The face has amazing detail, and it wouldn't surprise me if the sculptors used actual photos of a tiger for reference. The ears are pointed back somewhat, the nose is hunched up, and the mouth, which is articulated, has a most impressive set of teeth, and a pink tongue. Panthor's eyes have been painted yellow, with cat-like black slits for pupils. He doesn't look terribly happy to see you, if you know what I mean. The nose and lips are painted a dark purple.
The paws are impressive. Each paw has four toes, with distinct claws, which have been painted a dark purple. The underside of each paw has appropriate pads sculpted into them, which have also been painted a very dark purple. The only slightly jarring thing about these is that one of the paws has a bit of factory production information, a production number, I suppose, imprinted on it in white. But, I guess they had to put it somewhere, and the bottom of a foot is the usual place for that sort of thing. Best place, too, really.
Need it be said that given the superb articulation of the Masters of the Universe Classics line, something which was much more limited in both the original and the 2002 line, Panthor is not just a lump of non-articulated plastic. He is exceedingly poseable. Panthor is fully articulated at the head, mouth, neck, mid torso, all four legs, knees on the front legs, including a rotation, knees and secondary knees on the hind legs, all four paws, and even the tail!
One would think that a large, presumably solid purple cat wouldn't have a lot of painted detail. And granted, there was no great need to paint the original or 2002 Panthors, since they were flocked with fur. But there is painted detail on Panthor beyond the eyes, nose, and mouth. The fur has been gently and expertly spray-painted, or I suspect a more appropriate term would be airbrushed, with a slightly darker purple than the plastic color that he was molded in, to bring out the detail of the fur. And it has worked superbly well. This is something that not even Battle Cat has. Granted, Battle Cat has stripes. Very impressive!
As for accessories, Panthor comes with a large, dark turquoise saddle, for Skeletor's use only, I'm quite sure. The saddle is identical in design to the one that came with Battle Cat, but with a different color scheme.
And this Panthor has something entirely new -- a helmet! The previous Panthors did not have helmets. And it is entirely unlike Battle Cat's. It snaps down over the ears, and protects the eyes and nose. It's mostly a dark turquoise in color. It has these long, curved, metallic turquoise horns on it, that are reminiscent of the ram's head staff that Skeletor is known to carry. I have to admit, it looks just a little over the top at this size, and sitting on a cat's head. On the other hand, I wouldn't be terribly inclined to say that to Panthor's face, especially of Skeletor was riding him at the time, and the horns, very nicely ridged and detailed, and painted in a metallic finish, curve out to the side somewhat, which I suspect would be useful in battle. Anyone attempting to approach Skeletor from the side would have to get past Panthor's helmet. I don't think this would be easy.
So, what's my final word? I'm extremely impressed. The cat is a beautiful design. I was impressed with it when I got Battle Cat, and I'm impressed with it as Panthor. The paint work is excellent, especially the shadow effects on the fur. This more than compensates for the lack of flocking in my opinion. The sculpt is amazing, and the articulation is astounding. The saddle and helmet are nice additions as well. Both are removable, by the way. If you're any sort of Masters of the Universe fan, you'll definitely want this big purple cat in your collection!
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of PANTHOR definitely has my highest recommendation!