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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS SHE-RA
By Thomas Wheeler

I don't really want to say that any character in the vast Masters of the Universe series is an inevitable addition to the line. Keep in mind that Mattel not only has the original Masters of the Universe characters to work with, but also those introduced in the 2002 series, as well as the 1990's "New Adventures of He-Man", as well as the characters from She-Ra, Princess of Power.

However, if one character was pretty much inevitable, it was, indeed, the aforementioned She-Ra, especially since we got her alter age, Princess Adora, some months back.

And so, SHE-RA has joined the excellent MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS line of action figures from Mattel. As I said, it's no great surprise. The two lines were always closely associated with each other, aided by the respective animated series. Indeed, She-Ra even made it into the 2002 Masters line, as a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive.

So where did She-Ra come from? Before I get into the actual character profile, I think it's pertinent to consider the origin of the toy line. In the mid-1980's, Mattel had a major hit with the Masters of the Universe. At that point in time, action figures hadn't really been Mattel's specialty. They were arguably best known for Barbie and Hot Wheels. Both fine toy lines, the top of the line in their respective categories of fashion dolls and die-cast cars, and still around today -- but not exactly entries in the action figure world.

One could argue that Mattel's previous well-regarded forays into the action figure world prior to the Masters had been Major Matt Mason in the 1960's, a reasonably plausible line of 6" "bendie" astronaut toys that took distinct advantage of America's interest in the real-life space exploration program (I had a ton of these as a kid and wish I still did); and Big Jim in the 1970's, a 10" action figure designed as a non-military answer to G.I. Joe. Big Jim was into sports, and a certain amount of adventuring. He would later go on to form a team of adventurers called the P.A.C.K., and even after his American run was concluded, would continue to have even more wide and varied adventures in Europe.

So basically, that boiled down to one hit per decade in the action figure realm for Mattel. Both were impressive toy lines, but not the best track record in the world. So when the Masters of the Universe really took off in the 1980's, Mattel wanted to make as much of it as they possibly could.

Some consumer research showed something interesting -- girls were playing with the Masters toys. Oh, certainly not as much as boys were, but given that "action figures" and "girls" were generally regarded as mutually exclusive, it was an interesting development -- one which Mattel wished to take advantage of.

They took a huge risk. They created a line of action figures for girls. This became PRINCESS OF POWER, with She-Ra as the central character. She was presented as He-Man's brother, and there was a wide range of heroes and villains. The line had all of ONE male character in it, a chap named Bow, who was an expert archer and an ally of She-Ra.

Enter Filmation, the producers of the animated He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series, that had propelled the Masters to the heights of popularity that they were enjoying. Clearly, a She-Ra: Princess of Power animated series was called for. But here is where things got interesting. Somebody along the way -- either Filmation or Mattel, I really don't know -- came to the realization that none of the villains in the Princess of Power toy line were likely strong enough characters to command the others. There was also, I suspect, some concern as to whether kids would watch an action show with a nearly entirely female cast.

Meanwhile, over in the Masters of the Universe line, an entirely new enemy threat in the form of Hordak and his Evil Horde had just been introduced. Someone, apparently not wanting to flood the Masters animated series with an entirely new enemy force, and seeing a need for some greater threats in the She-Ra series than the toy line readily provided, united both concepts in a way that the toys alone probably never would have, by moving Hordak and his Evil Horde into She-Ra's world for the animated series! They also threw in an interesting twist in that, whereas He-Man's homeworld of Eternia was under the benevolent rule of King Randor, and the main bad guy, Skeletor, was a pest as much as anything else; on She-Ra's adopted world of Etheria, Hordak's forces had taken over! She-Ra belonged to a Great Rebellion that was trying to free the planet from Hordak's tyrannical rule.

She-Ra enjoyed several years of success before both the Princess of Power and the Masters of the Universe line faded. However, over the years, the fan base for Masters has certainly accepted the characters from She-Ra's world as part of the overall continuity, and with good reason. On more than a few occasions during the course of She-Ra's series, there were crossovers between the two worlds, and indeed, it was revealed the Skeletor was Hordak's former pupil, so there was certainly a connection even among the bad guys.

As such, there's certainly no reason why She-Ra shouldn't be included in the Masters of the Universe Classics line, and indeed, she may just be the start. But -- who is She-Ra, specifically, and how did she gain her powers? That story is best told in the theatrically-released movie "He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword". But the details can also be found with a little online research.

King Randor and Queen Marlena of Eternia had been blessed with twins, a boy named Adam, and a girl named Adora. At the time of the twins' birth, the Evil Horde, led by Hordak, launched an invasion against Eternia. The Horde was unable to defeat the Eternian Royal Guard, or the power of Castle Grayskull. Hordak, and his then-pupil Skeletor, plotted to kidnap the twins, because of a mysterious prophecy that indicates that the twins were important to the future, and Hordak wanted them under his control. Hordak was able to successfully kidnap Adora, but he and Skeletor were confronted by Man-At-Arms before Adam could be taken. Hordak escaped, leaving Skeletor behind. As payback, Skeletor revealed to Man-At-Arms that the Horde was based in Snake Mountain. Man-At-Arms and the Sorceress went to confront Hordak, but he escaped with Adora through a portal to another dimension, which closed behind him before anyone could follow.

Adora was raised under the care of a Horde servant named Shakra, who was able to provide Adora with some sense of goodness during her early life. When Adora was old enough to begin to serve the Horde, which by now had conquered the planet Etheria, Hordak had Shadow Weaver place Adora under a spell so that she would follow the Horde unquestioningly. Hordak saw great potential in Adora and made her a Force Captain, a high ranking officer.

At some point, as shown in the movie "Secret of the Sword", the Sorceress began to have dreams which reminded her of the time when Adora was taken. She awakens to find a sword floating above her bed. She sees that the sword is similar in design to the one given to Prince Adam, which allows him to become He-Man. The sword seems to beckon to the Sorceress, so she follows it through the halls of Castle Grayskull, until the sword drops in front of a doorway which leads to a previously unopened portal. The Sorceress knows that the time has come to reveal a previously unknown past to Adam, so she summons him and Cringer to the castle. She explains only that the time has come for the sword to be claimed by its rightful owner, and Adam and Cringer walk through the portal and arrive in a lush green forest. They are now on Etheria.

Adam heads to a village called Thaymor, where he and Cringer stop for a meal at an inn. Horde Troopers enter, whereupon Adam confronts them, joined by a man named Bow. They defeat the Troopers, and Bow leads Adam into the Whispering Woods, and the home of the Great Rebellion. Later, the Rebellion stages an attack against the Horde, and are nearly defeated, until He-Man arrives. Adora flees with He-Man in pursuit. He confronts her in a room with the sword that the Sorceress gave him, which begins to glow. He-Man realizes that the sword is meant for her. He is then knocked out by a Horde laser and imprisoned. Adora recovers the sword.

Adora visits He-Man in his prison cell and tells him that she feels drawn to the sword, as if it were made especially for her. He-Man confirms this, but tells her that the sword is meant for a person who fights on the side of good. Adora responds by telling him that she serves the Horde, who are the lawful rulers of Etheria. He-Man tells her to investigate for herself, which she does, ultimately realizing the truth. She confronts Hordak, whereupon Shadow Weaver realizes that the sword Adora is carrying is weakening her own magic. She casts a spell on Adora and takes the sword.

Adora awakens with no memories of the previous day's events. Later that day, Adora brings He-Man to Hordak, who places him in a device to drain his energy. Adora expresses her dislike of this, but Shadow Weaver once again casts a spell on her and sends her on her way. Later that night an echoing voice awakens Adora, and she is drawn into the room where He-Man is being drained of his energy. She is drawn to the sword once again. The face of the Sorceress appears in the jewel embedded in the sword. She reveals to Adora that she was kidnapped by the Horde when she was an infant, and that she has a twin brother, who is He-Man. The Sorceress concludes with "For the honor of Grayskull". Adora lifts the sword high and repeats the phrase, and is transformed into She-Ra for the first time. She releases He-Man, and the two escape with the help of She-Ra's horse, Spirit, who, much as Cringer is transformed into Battle Cat, becomes a winged unicorn named Swift Wind with help from She-Ra.

He-Man is stunned to discover he has a sister, but the Sorceress confirms this through She-Ra's sword. Adam and Adora soon return to Eternia. King Randor and Queen Marlena are overjoyed at the return of their long-lost daughter, and Randor tells Adam how proud he is of him.

But Hordak has also come to Eternia, determined to capture Adora. They briefly succeed, but Adora is able to trick Beast Man, recover her sword, and transform to She-Ra, defeating the villains. Skeletor laments about the sudden appearance of "A female He-Man???!" in one of the funnier lines of the movie.

Adora realizes that she must return to Etheria, join the Great Rebellion, and use her abilities as She-Ra to overthrow Hordak. Randor and Marlena, although unaware of their children's dual identities, are saddened over Adora's decision, but understand the reasoning behind it. He-Man briefly joins She-Ra, but returns to Eternia, saying, "Farewell, She-Ra, Princess of Power!"

From here, the independent She-Ra animated series placed Adora in command of the Great Rebellion, aided by other characters who were part of the toy line. Hordak's Evil Horde was presented as a combination of the Horde characters from the Masters toy line, and the villainesses from the Princess of Power toy line. The series concluded before the Horde was definitively defeated.

She-Ra has powers similar to her brother, but she also was able to use mental communication with animals, and had a healing touch that could revive those close to death, although this power was seldom used.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. Mattel has not been shy about bringing female characters into the Masters of the Universe Classics line. There have already been figures for Teela, Evil-Lyn, the obscure green-skinned Goddess, and the first-ever figure of Adora, She-Ra's secret identity. One might hope that we'll see The Sorceress before long, and if Mattel continues to offer other characters from the Princess of Power concept, there will be no shortage to work from there.

One thing to note right off is that the She-Ra figure has two heads -- granted only one at a time can be used. The original She-Ra toy featured an ornate mask that fit over the figure's face, concealing her identity. The animated series did away with this, giving her an ornate headpiece, but lacking any sort of mask. She-Ra managed to conceal her identity with longer hair and a slightly deeper voice. (Hey, if Clark Kent can get away with glasses...)

However, the masked version of the head is included, and indeed is the one attached to the figure in package. And -- how can I say this? Well, I'm sure it's an accurate interpretation of the original toy's mask, and the sparkle-stickers on the upswept side wings are a cool effect, and doubtless required some additional effort beyond just painting, so I really hate to sound critical about it. But -- this thing looks like it came right out of Mardi Gras. I mean, it really is that tacky-looking. I'll be sincerely surprised if more than a very small percentage of collectors who buy and open this figure leave the original "masked" head in place and don't swap it out for the cartoon-accurate one.

Now, let's discuss the cartoon-accurate one, because that's a very good description for it. Fans highly commended the Adora figure several months ago for its very close resemblance to the animated incarnation of the character, and they were right to do so. That resemblance and accuracy has been carried over to She-Ra. Let's be fair, if you look at the original "Princess of Power" toys, they're well made, colorful, ornate -- but they're just a little too cute for their own good. They work well enough as a girls' action figure line, which is what they were intended as. As an extension of the Masters of the Universe Classics line, aimed at collectors, they need a little work to fit in. And the animated series from Filmation, using a technique called "rotoscoping" which resulted in -- okay, a lot of stock footage -- but also some very realistic designs within the confines of the concept, is not at all a bad basis to work from to bring the "Princess of Power" characters up to speed with the Masters, many of whom also look like they stepped right out of the original animated series. And I mean that as a compliment.

She-Ra reflects this superbly well. The figure has distinctly longer hair than the Adora figure, which is in keeping with her style from the animated series. The hair is sculpted, and not rooted. Although this is some hindrance to the head articulation, I also think it's certainly the preferable option. Flocking Moss Man a while back was tricky enough, and Mattel even had some trouble with that. Giving any of these figures rooted hair -- hey, all it would take would be one nasty humid day to ruin that look.

The hair is designed as a separate piece and it attached to the head. The design is extremely detailed and very well made, with flowing locks and some strands curling out here and there. It's really a very impressive job.

The face is amazing. This is one of Mattel's best likenesses-based-on-the-animation. It really is just astounding. The painted details around the eyebrows, lips, and especially the eyes is absolutely amazing.

She-Ra is dressed in her traditional uniform of a white top and white skirt, with gold trim. There are two small gold "wings" at the top of her outfit, an ornate gold emblem with a blue jewel in the center of the costume, and a white belt. The skirt has been nicely sculpted with appropriate folds. The headpiece on the "animated-style" head looks like a small tiara, with descending wings that come along the side of She-Ra's face. This is also gold, with a red jewel in the top.

She-Ra also has gold gauntlets around her wrists, and gold boots. All of the gold on the figure, including the headpiece (and for that matter, the mask), has been given a superb gold metallic finish. She also has a small gold collar, which I believe is supposed to look like it's attached to her red cape. The cape is molded from a reasonably flexible plastic, and is short enough so it doesn't hinder any articulation.

She-Ra's accessories include her Sword of Protection, a small gold shield with a large blue gemstone in it, and rather amusingly, a small toy comb, which is actually useless on the figure, but which was included among the accessories of the original She-Ra figure, where one would assume it wasn't as useless. Actually, given that the 2002 She-Ra figure did have rooted hair, and I honestly don't remember if that one came with a comb or not, maybe this accessory could just be passed back to her...

Articulation of the figure is excellent, of course. She-Ra is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. The leg articulation is somewhat hindered by the skirt, but really, how necessary is that for most display purposes? Could be a little problematic if they ever do Swift Wind, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

One of the things I've especially enjoyed about the Masters of the Universe Classics figures is the scroll-like "file cards" -- character backstories -- on the package backs. It's worth mentioning that the front of She-Ra's package has a "Princess of Power" sticker on the "bubble", identical to the original logo. But the backstory is especially interesting, since it seems to feature events that never happened, and are arguably future events that took place after both of the original He-Man and She-Ra animated series concluded. Where Mattel might go with this, I have no idea. It reads as follows:

SHE-RA

Most Powerful Woman in the Universe

Real Name: Adora of the House of Randor

Channeling the combined Power of the Universe and the Wisdom of the Elders of Eternia, Adora transforms into She-Ra, the most powerful woman in the Universe. Her strength comes not from brute force but from sheer will and her cunning magical powers and healing abilities. She also has the power to communicate telepathically with animals. As both She-Ra and Adora, she helped lead the Great Rebellion of Etheria against the Horde invaders. Later, when Hordak found an escape to Eternia, she followed him along with several of her friends and allies. Once there, the Princess of Power joined forces with the now renegade Masters of the Universe, who without King Randor had become outcasts in their own land, fighting against Hordak's new tyranny!

What the heck happened to Randor!? Sort of feel sorry for the guy. It's even interesting to note which figures are pictured on the back of the package. The average card back shows about half a dozen figures from the line, with the rather significant understatement "Some figures may no longer be available". Not directly, anyway! But it shows He-Man, Man-At-Arms, She-Ra, Adora, King Randor, and Hordak. That's not coincidence...

However, let's also note that the card states that She-Ra followed Hordak to Eternia "along with several of her friends and allies". That certainly opens the door to more characters from this region of the Masters universe. As for the storyline playing out here, without an animated series or a comic book to back it up, and I've heard of neither being in the works, there's not much that can be done with it, but it's certainly an interesting twist to throw in!

So, what's my final word here? Well, heck, if you're any sort of Masters fan, you're going to want She-Ra. She marks one of the few times a girls'-directed action figure line actually worked, and she's certainly a major part of the overall Masters concept and history. And the figure is really extremely impressive.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of SHE-RA - PRINCESS OF POWER most definitely has my highest recommendation!