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By Thomas Wheeler

I've never been terribly fond of subscribing to things. I'm not entirely sure why. I've read comic books most of my life, but I've never subscribed to any. I enjoyed ToyFare magazine during the course of its run, but I never subscribed to it. I just bought it in the stores when it came out. However, I do have a subscription/membership in the G.I. Joe Collectors' Club, but that's about it. And until recently, I'd never subscribed to MattyCollector's Club Eternia, the subscription service for Masters of the Universe Classics figures.

That changed with 2012. I subscribed. Why? Several reasons. First of all, I'd also subscribed to MattyCollector's Club Infinite Earths, which is the subscription service for their DC Universe Classics figures. Mattel had announced that they really needed a certain number of people to subscribe in order to proceed with it, and I certainly wanted it to proceed, so I subscribed. Ultimately, Mattel proceeded with it anyway, even though technically they didn't really get enough people. But the people that did subscribe were both enthusiastic and vocal about wanting to see the line continue, and so it shall.

But there were other reasons I chose to subscribe to Club Eternia. Mattel had announced two things: First of all, that they would be raising the price of Masters of the Universe Classics figures for non-subscribers. Secondly, that they would be reducing the non-subscription production run of monthly figures.

It was already something of a headache for me to get to a fast enough computer -- something my home computers do not really qualify for -- on or around the 15th of every month in order to access MattyCollector.Com, and then hope that the refreshing-every-five-seconds "hold screen" would punch its way through to the Web Site in order to allow me to order my figures before the supply ran out. Now, I was going to be paying more? And with lower odds of getting the figures? I didn't need that sort of stress. So I subscribed.

I believe it was a wise choice. And it also entitled me to this year's Club Eternia exclusive Masters of the Universe Classics action figure, a delightful lady by the name of -- SHADOW WEAVER!

There's an old saying that behind every good man, there's a woman. Several of the best-known toy-based pop culture concepts from the 80's, that are still around today, have also shown that behind every bad man, there's also a woman. Cobra Commander has the Baroness (although it could be argued that Destro also has the Baroness, but this is a toy review, not a romance column). Skeletor has Evil-Lyn. And Hordak has Shadow Weaver.

Interestingly, of these three, two of them were not initially created within their respective toy lines. The Baroness was in the G.I. Joe comic book, and the first animated mini-series, well before an action figure of her actually appeared. And Shadow Weaver was entirely the creation of Filmation, for the She-Ra: Princess of Power animated series. There never was a figure of her until now. Only Evil-Lyn had been previously established.

There is a good reason for the creation of such characters, and then linking them closely to the respective top villain in their various concepts, and I'm going to assume that it's mostly coincidental that these characters are all female. It gives the main bad guy someone within the concept to talk to and reveal or explain his plans to -- and this also to the reading or viewing audience. This someone needs to be a highly-placed and capably intelligent individual, one who will understand what the villain is saying, and maybe even offer counsel. And hopefully, not stab the bad guy in the back by stealing or sabotaging his plans for her own benefit, although this was certainly known to happen in all three instances more than once.

Ultimately, though, such characters were needed, because there wasn't really anyone else to fill the role. When G.I. Joe first came along, the bad guys consisted of Cobra Commander, and scads of Cobra Troopers and Cobra Officers. Cobra Commander was not about to reveal his most carefully laid plans to the rank and file, and so the Baroness was created. And in the case of both Skeletor and Hordak, while their associates were of a more individual nature than Cobra Commander's nameless, faceless army, these associates were also, for the most part, portrayed as a pack of nincompoops. Evil-Lyn and Shadow Weaver may have been potential, even probable power-hungry backstabbers, but at least they could carry on an intelligent conversation, and if it was in their best interests to go along with their alleged leaders, then that's what they'd do.

Shadow Weaver's background is a little more convoluted than most, due to the concept that she is most closely associated with -- that being the Princess of Power series. When Masters of the Universe was at its height, Mattel somehow determined that girls were almost as much a fan of the concept as boys. This was highly unusual for an action figure line, as action figures had long been regarded as being specifically for boys. It was one of the reasons that female characters so seldom found their way into the genre, a situation that persists to this day.

Mattel decided to try something that, for the toy world, was highly radical. They created a female action figure line. Dubbed "Princess of Power", the line featured She-Ra, the sister of He-Man, and a wide range of assorted heroes and villains.

As a toy line, it wasn't really all that compatible with the original Masters of the Universe. There weren't the same bizarre creatures common to the Masters line. The characters were all largely human in appearance, and whatever unusual abilities they might have had were generally worked out through their costumes and accessories. There was only one male character in the entire line -- Bow, a heroic associate of She-Ra -- and he clearly was no physical match for He-Man or any of the other Masters.

Filmation obviously decided to produce a Princess of Power animated series, kicking it off with a theatrically-released movie titled "He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword". But unlike the two toy lines, the characters were entirely compatible with one another in the animation. This was due not only to storyline necessity, but the fact that Filmation used a technique known as rotoscoping -- filming live actors performing various movements, and then drawing the animation of the various characters using the live footage as a basis. While this created an awful lot of similar-looking stock footage, it did result in an impressive consistency and smoothness in the animation.

So where do Hordak and Shadow Weaver fit into this picture? Technically, Hordak wasn't part of the Princess of Power toy line. He and his Evil Horde had been introduced into the Masters of the Universe action figure line. But somebody, I would suspect at Filmation, and certainly with Mattel's approval, made two determinations here.

First of all, within the Masters of the Universe show, which was starting to wind down a bit at this point anyway, He-Man didn't really need an entire second group of villains to fight. Skeletor and his cronies were more than enough trouble for him.

Secondly, and more significantly, the Princess of Power line lacked a really strong villain. Arguably the most prominent villain in the concept was Catra, who was described as a "jealous beauty", but whose figure, and admittedly the original Princess of Power figures leaned much more towards fashion dolls than action figures, didn't look especially evil. Certainly not well enough to be a sufficient threat for the duration of a daily syndicated animated series. So Hordak and his Evil Horde moved to She-Ra's world of Etheria, basically conquering the place in the process.

This also made for a nice turnaround from the Masters animated series, where the good guys were clearly in charge, and Skeletor could only plot and scheme and try to find ways to take over. On Etheria, the bad guys were in charge, and She-Ra and her heroic friends were part of a rebellion trying to overthrow the Horde.

Most of She-Ra's toy line villains joined the Horde, something that remains reflected to this day, as can be evidenced by the Masters of the Universe Classics Catra figure, which takes her visual cues entirely from her animated counterpart and is a member of the Horde. Now, one could suppose that Catra might have become Hordak's closest associates, and indeed, she is a prominent member of the Horde. But that role nevertheless went to Shadow Weaver, who was created specifically for the show, and one can pretty well see the reasons why.

Catra simply wasn't powerful enough. She was mean enough, certainly, and her whiny, cat-like voice was certainly annoying. But here again, her characterization as a character who used cat-like abilities was too specific, and really, not strong enough, to allow her to be Hordak's most prominent associate.

Additionally, there was the early story factor that She-Ra, or rather, Adora, Prince Adam's sister, was quite literally under the spell of the Evil Horde. He-Man had to break her of that spell in order to bring out her heroic side and enable her to take on the role of She-Ra. Such mesmerizing was clearly outside of Catra's abilities, or anyone else either in the Horde or among She-Ra's toy line adversaries.

Hordak himself was clearly a more technological than magical villain, although clearly he knew the value of wizardry, which is doubtless why he brought in Shadow Weaver. And thus the character was created. However, there was never any figure of her before. Despite being female, her appearance certainly didn't lend itself well to the Princess of Power toy line, and since she confined her activities to Etheria, despite the occasional crossover between the He-Man and She-Ra animated series, there wasn't a good enough reason to bring her into the Masters of the Universe toy line, which also, as a more traditional boys' action figure line, wouldn't have welcomed another female character anyway. We were probably lucky to get Teela, Evil-Lyn, and the Sorceress as it was.

Over the years, certainly, as the fan base for Masters of the Universe and its corollary concepts -- including She-Ra and her associates -- has grown, there has been a demand for a Shadow Weaver figure. Certainly the character was prominent enough in the animated series. But there was a long-standing problem. Technically, Mattel didn't have the rights to the character. Even though Shadow Weaver appeared in a series featuring Mattel-created characters, she was nevertheless a Filmation creation. Mattel had the same problem for some time with Orko, until he was finally squeezed into the original line, and has since appeared in both the 2002 line (and animated series), and the Classics line.

Shadow Weaver, for whatever reason -- and I'm not about to try to get into all the legalities of it -- took longer. However, Mattel has finally acquired the rights to the character, and at long last, Shadow Weaver has finally been produced as an action figure, within what I believe anyone would have to say is the most impressive Masters of the Universe line ever.

Let's consider the character of Shadow Weaver. Although extremely prominent in the Princess of Power animated series, little is revealed about her in online research. She was always something of a very mysterious character, her face perpetually shrouded. All I could really find was the following:

A vastly-powerful Horde witch, who commands an array of dark magic, and an encyclopedic knowledge of mystical lore. Shadow Weaver began as a practicing apprentice sorceress originally from the Kingdom of Mystacor. Her real name is unknown although the UK comics gave her the name Light Spinner. She, along with a rival sorceress named Castaspella, were being trained by a great Etherian sorcerer Norwyn. When Hordak arrived on Etheria, he promised Shadow Weaver great power in exchange for information about rebel leadership, to which she agreed. Originally only a second-rate sorceress herself, her capabilities were greatly increased through a magical gem, one that was responsible for a devastating unforeseen physical transformation. While absorbing the power of the Horde's "dark gem", Norwyn discovered her and realized her great betrayal. He then destroyed the gem, severing her link with the gem but not before she had taken a third of its power, inducing an irreversible change in her mentally and spiritually. She betrayed Norwyn and Castaspella, and joined The Horde forever.

Shadow Weaver was voiced by Linda Gary in the 80s series -- who probably needed some throat drops after voicing what sounded a whole lot like a female version of Cobra Commander...

Most of this backstory is reflected on the character's file card, on the back of the package, as we will see a little later.

So, how's the figure? Really very impressive, but I suspect the sculpting and design team of the Four Horsemen were faced with something of a challenge here -- how do you take a character that had a fairly simple design for the sake of the animation, and who basically looked like a human-sized, female Orko, and make her look interesting and sufficiently detailed to fit well within the line?

This can't have been easy. What we have here is basically a reversal of the unusual situation faced with toy-based characters in an animated series. Usually the toy comes first, and the toy is going to be a lot more detailed than its animated counterpart. By necessity -- at least before the days of CGI -- a character's design, if that character wasn't developed specifically for animation, had to be somewhat simplified for the cartoon. If you tried drawing every rivet on someone's armor for that character's animated counterpart, it would be next to impossible to keep a design like that consistent from one hand-drawn animation cel to the next, and that's going to show up in the finished product. Honestly, I'm amazed that some of the animated series in the 80's were as detailed as they were, not just Masters, but G.I. Joe, and certainly Transformers. Imagine having to draw a robot turning into a plane or a tank, and it has to do it a lot more quickly and smoothly than the toy.

But Shadow Weaver started out in the animation, and doubtless Filmation cut themselves something of a break by giving the character a fairly simple design. Shadow Weaver is clearly human, or at least humanoid, but her face is hidden underneath a hood, and she's wearing a long dress that goes all the way down and even covers her feet. The most detailed aspects of her wardrobe are the fact that the hood has a long, tapering point on it, and she has a sort of partial jagged cape design that merges with her sleeves. None of this would be especially difficult to animate. The most detailed part of her that we see are her rather gnarled, pale-green hands, which were in some contrast to her outfit, which was entirely dark red.

All of this works well for an animated series. Now -- try to get an interesting-looking action figure out of it. Well, if anybody could, it would be the Four Horsemen, and they have certainly managed to do so. The figure is admittedly a bit plainer-looking than a lot of Masters of the Universe Classics figures in the line, but the important thing is -- the figure certainly looks like Shadow Weaver. The Four Horsemen have shown a distinct talent for creating these figures to frequently look like they stepped right out of the animated series. And the impressive thing about both of the Filmation series is that the characters had much more plausible bodily proportions and overall appearances than their respective toys tended to.

To bring Shadow Weaver into the Masters of the Universe Classics action figure line, the Four Horsemen clearly relied on several factors. One was that ultimately, Shadow Weaver had to look like Shadow Weaver, and if this meant a somewhat plainer-looking figure, then so be it. But at the same time, they didn't rely on that any more than they had to. They put as much detail as they could into the figure while still maintaining the character's likeness, and also came up with some clever design and structure elements along the way.

Shadow Weaver's headsculpt is interesting. How do you create an action figure of someone whose face was always entirely in shadow? Well, if they can do The Faceless One, they can do Shadow Weaver. The headsculpt duplicates the hood, with the long tapered point on the top, and the minimal amount of face that appears is simply painted black, with two very angry-looking glowing yellow eyes emerging from it. There isn't even a lot of sculpted detail in the black, nor is there any need for any. Just enough to make the character look like she's got a nasty scowl going.

The hood has a series of natural folds at the base, and especially in the back, these taper into the top of the rather jagged cape that she wears. Here's where we see one of the interesting design elements of the figure. The cape is not so much secured to the collar or the back of the figure, but instead, merges with the upper arms, just below the swivel. The lower arms of the figure continue the jagged look, all the way to the wrists. It works out remarkably well, and the cape itself has enough plastic material to it, and is flexible enough, so that it isn't the slightest hindrance to Shadow Weaver's articulation. She can move her arms normally, and even raise them up very sufficiently, without the cape causing any sort of articulation problems.

Emerging from the ends of the sleeves are Shadow Weaver's hands. Here is where the most detailed sculpting for this figure likely took place. The hands are a very pale green, and slightly gnarled in appearance, with fingernails painted black. The left hand is mostly open, with individual finger, while the right hand is slightly closed in order to hold objects. I'll discuss Shadow Weaver's accessories shortly.

The upper torso of the figure is fairly standard, and obviously female, although I'm not certain that it comes from any previous molds, In fact, I think it's entirely possible that Shadow Weaver is an entirely unique figure, although the shoulder pieces might be pre-existing.

Certainly the figure below the waist is entirely unique. The lower torso has Shadow Weaver's only real wardrobe accoutrement, a brighter red belt that emulates the bat-winged, Hordak-faced emblem of the Evil Horde.

Past the lower torso we have the rest of Shadow Weaver's long dress. This is a single piece, and the figure effectively has no legs. It's just the dress, but it's been very well sculpted and is certainly in keeping with the look of the character from the animated series.

For all of the considerable talent of the Four Horsemen, I think Shadow Weaver might still have ended up a little too plain-looking, if it hadn't been for the considerable skill of the painters. Now, normally I'm not the biggest fan of painted-on shading, and certainly I don't approve of painted-on wear-and-tear and battle damage. I just don't think it's necessary. However, in the case of Shadow Weaver, the figure definitely benefits from some expertly airbrushed shading. It really does make the figure look a bit more "real", and more -- for lack of a better term -- three-dimensional than her animated origins. The shading has been carefully and expertly applied to her hood and gown, and really does a nice job of even making her look just a little darker and more sinister. Granted, the figure has been molded in a distinctly darker red than her animated counterpart in the first place.

As to the matter of articulation. Okay -- this isn't exactly Shadow Weaver's specialty. As I said, the figure doesn't even have actual legs. I think it would be fair to say that she has the range of motion that her figure, which is an accurate representation of the character as she was presented in the cartoon, allows. Shadow Weaver is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, and has an additional point of articulation at the hips which allows her to bend over. You know, in case she dropped some magic potion on the floor of her lab or whatever.

Granted, this doesn't sound like much, but she's more poseable than Orko.

She also comes with a transparent base that can attach to the underside of the figure. This makes her look like she's hovering a bit, something she did tend to do in the series. Hey, if you can do it, why not save the feet a bit of wear and tear? Nevertheless, the figure balances perfectly well just on the base of her own gown, although without the additional transparent base, she comes up a bit short height-wise relative to other Masters of the Universe figures, including other females.

Shadow Weaver comes with two other accessories besides the base. She has what I'm going to call a magic wand, a short silver staff with black trim and a very nicely done pale transparent blue sphere at the top, and an ornate book of spells, bright green with gold trim and a mean-looking black face on it. The book is locked and doesn't open. Probably just as well.

Shadow Weaver's bio card on the back of her package reads as follows:

SHADOW WEAVER - Evil Mistress of Dark Magic
Real Name: BEATRIX

Born in the Etherian Kingdom of Mystacor, Beatrix was once known as Light Spinner and served as an apprentice to the great mage, Norwyn. When Hordak arrived on Etheria, during his exile in Despondos, he promised her great power in return for information and help in overthrowing Bright Moon and the surrounding kingdoms. Her powers were greatly enhanced through a magical gem whose power also induced an irreversible change in her appearance and mental state. She betrayed Norwyn and her fellow magical student Castaspella, leading Horde Troopers to their hidden magic archives. In Horror Hall, Beatrix took the name Shadow Weaver, using her black magic to fight the Great Rebellion, all the while secretly plotting to overthrow Hordak and claim his power for her own!

Yeah, don't they all. Her, Evil-Lyn, Baroness -- makes you wonder why the main bad guys put up with them. I think I need to add an addendum to that remark about "Behind every bad man there's a woman" -- looking for the slightest opportunity to stab him in the back and take over for herself. Sheesh!

Still, the story reads pretty much like the established background for the character, although there is that reference to Despondos, where Hordak was exiled in the storyline to the 2002 Masters of the Universe series. I'm honestly not entirely sure where the name "Beatrix" came from, although I'd swear I once heard Hordak address Shadow Weaver by that name. Thing of it is, I never watched the She-Ra: Princess of Power series all that much. Even so, it sounds familiar, unless I'm imagining it. Somehow, though, it fits.

Shadow Weaver was also accompanied by a map. That is to say, it was packed in the same shipping box with her, and you didn't get either Shadow Weaver or the map unless you were a Club Eternia subscriber. So I'll mention the map here.

The two previous years' maps were for Eternia and Etheria. Ironically, last year's subscription figure was "He-Man in Preternia Disguise", and he came with the Etheria map. So this year, the subscription figure of Shadow Weaver, an inhabitant of Etheria, came with a map of -- Preternia! You two maybe want to get together and work out a trade?

Anyway, the map is a nice piece of work, even if it's not something you'd likely find inserted into National Geographic. It measures about 20" x 30", and its full title is "Preternia - Before the Spell of Separation". It seems that before this "spell", Eternia's land mass was pretty much just that, a singular huge continent, although there are a couple of islands. One in the northwest is marked as Anwat Gar, and one in the southeast is listed as Arachnia City.

The central continent is marked into four lands -- Snake Territory, Horde Territory, Dragon Territory of Darksmoke, and the Free People of Preternia. Central to all of this is the Central Tower, clearly derived from the Eternia playset from the original line, complete with the monorail tracks that link to the Grayskull Tower in the Free People region, and the Viper Tower in the Snake Territory. One assumes that Hordak lost his bid for a monorail tower in his region.

Castle Grayskull is present and accounted for in the Free People region, and the Temple of Serpos, which would eventually become Snake Mountain, is also seen in the Snake Territory.

Other notable landmarks include the Horde Factory Works, the Slime Pit, Zalesia, Eldor's Village (another character who was a contemporary of He-Ro), and several notable characters, including Megator, and two of the dinosaurs that were actually released at the tail end of the original line, just as the Preternia concept was getting started.

Obviously, there's much more to the map than this, but I wanted to at least hit the high points.

So, what's my final word? Well, unless you subscribed to Club Eternia, this is not going to be an easy figure to acquire. And when Shadow Weaver was announced as the Club Eternia exclusive for 2012, the reaction among Masters fans was decidedly enthusiastic. Some said they were likely to subscribe just to get the figure. That wasn't my reason for subscribing, but I'm still glad to have her.

The reaction is understandable. Shadow Weaver was a major player in the She-Ra series, and as such by extension in the Masters universe, and there has never been a figure of her before this, and for quite some time, it looked like it wouldn't even happen here. Nevertheless, here she is, and the Four Horsemen and Mattel have done an extremely impressive job with her. I would expect that any longtime Masters fan would be very pleased to add her to their collection, even if they have to rely on, shall we say, the secondary market in order to do so. It's like I say with any hard-to-acquire action figure. If the figure exists, it's not impossible to track it down. Expensive, maybe, but not impossible. And Shadow Weaver is assuredly worth the effort.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of SHADOW WEAVER definitely has my highest recommendation!