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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE SNAKE-ARMOR HE-MAN & CLAW ATTACK STRATOS
By Thomas Wheeler

Two new Masters of the Universe figures have appared on the scene -- one of them loooong overdue. Only problem is, the "scene" is overseas. They're not available in the United States. That's not to say there aren't ways to get them, mostly thanks to cyberspace. In my case, it was a longtime friend in the United Kingdom.

First up is SNAKE-ARMOR HE-MAN. The new Masters figures continue the "Snake-Men" line on the green packaging. As much as I'm not especially fond of all the multiple versions of He-Man and Skeletor that were produced in the new Masters line, which I tend to blame for its departure from the toy store shelves, this particular version of He-Man did need to be made. It's a distinctly different figure, not just a repaint, and it is a likeness of He-Man as he appeared in the animated series' second season, when the Snake-Men storyline gained prominence.

As the story goes, with the new threat of the Snake-Men, He-Man needed something a little more than his "Me, Tarzan" look in order to properly combat them. So the Sorceress provided He-Man with protective armor. Now when Prince Adam raises his sword and yells "By the power of Greyskull!", he turns into a rather well-armored He-Man ready to kick some serious reptile.

The figure has a new head sculpt, but the difference is minimal. He-Man's mouth is closed instead of slightly open as it was before. His right arm and lower torso are heavily armored, and there's a huge section of armor over his right shoulder that frankly would leave anybody other than the super-strong He-Man walking rather lopsided. He-Man's right leg is also fully armored.

Granted, it's an odd look. He-Man's left arm, upper chest, and left leg are not armored. You'd think these would be prime targets for the Snake-Men as such. But there is some additional weaponry that may well compensate for this seeming deficiency.

Attached to He-Man's right wrist is a small device called a Snake Clamp, that springs out at the touch of a button. Unfortunately, the design of the mechanism means that the figure's wrist is not articulated, as has usually been the case.

Then there's He-Man's new sword. This thing is immense to the point of implausibility. Literally, the figure has trouble standing up if he's holding the sword. The hilt is largely the same, but the "blade" is now a massive, bulky piece of plastic, concealing a hidden spring-loaded missile launcher. The sword is almost as tall as He-Man.

One other interesting feature about the figure's construction -- his elbows are articulated. This has not tended to be the case with most Masters of the Universe figures. The only previous one I recall was Mer-Man, and in his case it was part of his spring-action function. Here it seems to be just a means of adding a little extra articulation to the figure.

Detail is of course excellent. Mattel's team of sculptors, The Four Horsemen, have crafted an excellent new version of He-Man here. The detail level on the armor is especially impressive.

Interestingly, when you set the figure alongside the first He-Man figure that came out in this new line, Snake-Armor He-Man looks shorter. But he really isn't. If you take measurements, they're both the same size. Snake-Armor He-Man's torso is a little longer for some reason, his exposed shoulder a little rounder, and his legs might be a little shorter, but essentially the figures are the same height. However, Snake-Armor He-Man's stance is a little more spread out than the basic He-Man figure's, so with the legs further out, he ends up looking shorter.

That's NOT a complaint. In fact, I have no complaints about this figure, other than the ridiculously large sword. Snake-Armor He-Man is a long overdue figure that I honestly think would've been one of the better selling variants had he been shipped to stores here in the United States, and given that this is the He-Man version who appeared in the animated series, I'm glad to finally have a figure of him.

Now, let's turn our attention to CLAW ATTACK STRATOS. Stratos is a figure that seems to have trouble getting any respect. The first version had very limited articulation in his arms, allegedly so he could look like he was flapping his wings. The second version of Stratos, called Sky Strike Stratos, corrected the arm articulation problem, but glued this missile-firing backpack to his back, which had these control cables attached to it that HAD to be held in the figure's hands.

Now we have Claw Attack Stratos. And we're getting closer to a decent Stratos. Resculpt the back and lose the backpack sometime, do him in traditional colors, and we're in business. But of the three Stratos figures, this new ones is probably the best to date.

It's a recoloration of Sky Strike Stratos, but thankfully, they lost the control cables. So we finally have decently articulated arms on a Stratos, and the cables that the figure had to hold are gone.

The colors on this Stratos are not too traditional. He's a very dark grey, the darkest ever, and his helmet is brown with gold trim, and his normally blue straps are metallic green. It doesn't look bad, but it doesn't look like Stratos' usual color scheme, either.

There have been a few changes. The "Anti-Snake-Men" symbol that some of the heroic figures have worn have been added to special knee-pads that have been glued above the ones Stratos usually wears. Nice touch, really. Stratos also comes with a detachable visor made from gold and transparent blue plastic. This is a weird piece that almost makes him look TOO birdlike in some respects.

Then there's the weapon. This figure isn't called CLAW ATTACK Stratos for nothing. He has this huge taloned weapon that fits over his hand (hence, I suspect, the discontinuation of the backpack control cables), that frankly looks like he tore the foot off of a mechanical version of a chicken that must've been the size of a pterodactyl. The wildlife on Eternia must be interesting.

This three-taloned contraption is spring activated, and probably wouldn't be bad for capturing the bad guys, really. Overall, the end result is a decently distinctive Stratos, even if the basic figure is a recoloration.

I would especially recommend SNAKE-ARMOR HE-MAN to any Masters of the Universe fan, and I would also recommend CLAW ATTACK STRATOS to those wanting as complete a collection as possible.

As for the future of the line? I think it's still up in the air, myself. Mattel offered a special SHE-RA figure at the San Diego ComiCon and the Wizard World Chicago Convention. I am hopeful of obtaining (and reviewing) that figure in the near future (and as of this writing will take whatever assistance I can in getting this figure at something less than eBay prices). But there was something else at those two conventions that attracted a lot of attention.

Seven, count them seven, entirely new sculpts, clearly designed as figures. These were "two-ups", the traditional toy world practice of sculpting a figure initially at twice the intended size, the better to put a greater level of detail into it. Most of the sculpts were unpainted. And in fact, the only one of the seven that wasn't a surprise was CLAWFUL, who was introduced very early in the animated series, and everyone wondered where his figure was. The other six were astounding.

They included TUNG LASHOR, another of the Snake-Men; SNOUT SPOUT, as peculiar a character as Buzz-Off, and another one I would've bet they couldn't make look cool enough for the new line (I was wrong -- they did); STINKOR, who has appeared in the animated series and the comic book; CLAMP CHAMP, a fairly obscure character and really the only African-American (if that term even applies to Eternians) from the original line; and most impressively, SORCERESS and HORDAK, two EXTREMELY prominent characters that we can only hope would get the updated figure treatment.

These figures were displayed in front of an illustrated posted that showcased even more characters than these. So -- what's going on? No one seems to know. And Mattel isn't talking. Will these figures be only for the international market? Will Mattel try to relaunch the line in the States and realize that we don't need two dozen versions of He-Man and Skeletor to have it sell well? Will we even get these as figures? I certainly hope so.

Masters of the Universe, like G.I.Joe and Transformers, was one of those concepts from the 1980's that deserved to make a strong comeback. And it was also the only one of those three iconic concepts that was drastically improved upon its return. It should've worked, and I believe it still can, even if new toys are marketed more towards collectors than kids. I want to see those even new figures, and beyond that.

Meanwhile, I definitely recommend SNAKE-ARMOR HE-MAN and CLAW ATTACK STRATOS. If you have the means to get them, then definitely do so.