MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE - SNAKE-MEN
For eons the Snake-Men have been trapped in an eternal prison by the powers of the Eternian Elders. But now, with the help of a descendant of the Snake-Men and the treacherous Evil-Lyn, the Snake-Men are free to spread their evil across Eternia once again!
Like it? Just came up with that. Anyway, it's not a bad explanation of the Snake-Men's origin within the modern Masters line.
In the original Masters line, the Snake-Men never amounted to much. Although they were a distinct enemy group, they were always overshadowed by Skeletor and later, Hordak. So I was quite surprised when I learned that they were being brought into the new Masters line with such a great emphasis that the entire packaging scheme would change, and the second season of the animated series would be devoted to them.
Unfortunately, the Snake-Men assortment won't make it to standard retail outlets in the United States. But that doesn't make them impossible to find. They're available on eBay, sometimes at reasonable prices, it's expected that some online stores will carry them, and a good friend of mine found them at a US Naval Exchange Service (Navy version of a PX) that's part of a Navy base in Washington.
Honestly, I always thought the Snake-Men were a little lame. The original versions looked silly, and their leader, King Hiss, had a pretty ludicrous ability. His upper torso was made of "snakes" which were concealed by a semi-human guise. Must've been taking lessons from the Transformers Pretenders.
The new Snake-Men are not lame. They've been presented in the animated series as an ancient and dangerous evil. One of their first acts was recapturing Snake Mountain from Skeletor, consigning him, albeit temporarily, to some sort of imprisoned oblivion, and nearly destroying all of his cronies. Then they managed to break into Castle Greyskull and came dangerously close to stealing its power.
They also have a very nasty habit of devouring their conquered adversaries. Even their descendant, Cobra Khan, who has allied himself with the Snake-Men in hopes of gaining their favor (and a piece of the power) seems uncomfortable with this.
So far, three Snake-Men have been released. Let us look at them individually:
KING HSSSS: The ultra-creepy leader of the Snake-Men, King Hssss can take on a humanoid form, but in fact from the waist up he is comprised of snakes. His name has been modified from the original "King Hiss", a name Mattel apparently could not use for some reason.
Toywise, the metamorphosis is fairly simple. The front half of his upper torso flips up, revealing two snakes for arms, both with working mouths, a third snake for a head, and two small snake heads that pop up from the shoulders. It's simplistic, but suitably weird and in keeping with the abilities of the original King Hiss.
The metamorphosis in the cartoon is a little more complicated. The human face retracts to reveal a snake head, and the torso basically changes into four additional snakes of relatively the same size, while the "head snake" is slightly larger. Granted, it would've been nearly impossible to accomplish this with the toy.
There are some positives and negatives in the ability, and both have to do with articulation. In "snake mode" the snake arms do move, and can move their jaws. In "humanoid" mode, however, there is no arm articulation. I'm not sure, given the way the toy works, that this could have been avoided. Nor am I sure how the original King Hiss worked since I never owned it.
Conversely, head and hand articulation have been maintained in the "flip top" humanoid segment. They probably could've been done away with and a solid part molded, but somebody in the design department apparently decided to maintain as much articulation as the mechanism allowed. It's a compromise, but not an unacceptable one.
It's also worth noting that King Hssss has undergone a distinct upgrade appearance-wise from his original form in the 1980's, which was likely one of the worst of the Snake-Men figures and something of a pathetic joke within the Masters line. Maybe why I never thought of them too highly. Overall detail on the new King Hssss is excellent, both on the humanoid form and the internal snakes. While I won't say the new King Hssss is as intimidating as Skeletor, or even extrapolations of what an upgraded Hordak might look like, he's not a joke, either. This Hssss means business.
THE GENERAL: Probably better known as RATTLOR, another name Mattel apparently couldn't use (although both the animated series and the comic book have, sometimes compromising and calling him "General Rattlor"), this was originally another Snake-Man figure that was a bit of a joke. Rather bulbous-bodied as I recall, his ability was that his head sprang out on a long skinny neck.
There's nothing "bulbous" about the new General/Rattlor figure. He has one of the most powerful physiques of any of the Masters figures yet produced. A powerful torso and muscular arms, with equally powerful legs. His head is entirely snake-like, and he has an opening jaw. For what it's worth, he can hold a Starburst jelly bean in there -- not that he especially has any reason to do so.
As with all the Masters figures, the overall sculpting and detail is excellent. Rattlor is not the least bit pre-posed, except for his tail. He has a long tail, curved, and interesting it has a tip that actually rattles! Nice touch. And his head still springs out on a somewhat slender length of neck, although it's curved and is nowhere near as scrawny as the original was.
Of all the Snake-Men figures available to date, I would have to say this one is the most impressive.
KHAN: Originally named Kobra Khan in the 80's. Mattel does seem to have had some trouble maintaining the Snake-Men names for some reason. It's interesting that in the animated series, Khan is described as a descendant of the Snake-Men, and has obviously not been fully accepted by them. It's interesting because in the original toy line, Kobra Khan was not one of the Snake-Men. He was a reptilian character introduced into the line before the distinct Snake-Men assortment was produced. Making him a descendant of those characters in the new concept is actually a nice bit of well-explained continuity in my opinion.
The figure is excellent, possibly the most "snake-like" of the Snake-Men to date. The figure is rather slender when compared to other Masters figures. He is molded in a dark green color, with a light green cobra-like hood. Most of the details painted on him are done in metallic colors, which is nice touch. Gold, copper, and a metallic light green highlight this figure. The ankle braces are especially ornate.
The action feature from the original Kobra Khan is carried over. In fact the full name of this figure is "Venom-Spitting Khan". The figure squirts. To be more precise, he spits. If you pop the head off (a rather disquieting thing to do, I'll admit), and fill the tordo with water, you can press down on the head and he'll spray the water.
One distinct improvement over the original Khan is the construction of the mouth. The original figure in the 80's just had a large circular area within the mouth that comprised the squirting mechanism. This resulted in a face that looked like a cross seomwhere between a yawn and sucking a lemon. Clearly the mechanism had come first and the sculpt second. That is most definitely not the case with the new Khan, who has a moveable jaw much like General Rattlor, and the aperture for the squirting mechanism has been designed to accommodate the head sculpt, not the other way around. The end result is yet another excellent addition to the Masters line.
Pictures have been seen of other Snake-Men, all of course based on the original characters, including TUNG LASHOR and SNAKE-FACE. One figure in the assortment, Snake Crush Skeletor, seems to have stolen SQUEEEZE's abilities -- "bendie" constricting arms, but according to information on He-Man.Org, that does not preclude the future possibility of an actual figure of that character, and indeed he has been seen in the animated series. Clearly, Mattel has had a little trouble maintaining character names in this group. Maybe if they add another "E".
While I might have preferred to have seen HORDAK and his EVIL HORDE, and hope that I still do, I cannot deny that these SNAKE-MEN are impressive. I hope we get the rest of them, and I hope they do well. The future of the line does depend on their success, and they're certainly as impressive as any of the Masters figures that have come along, and I give them my definite recommendation!