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REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS SNAKE MEN TWO-PACK
By Thomas Wheeler

Why is it that most people really don't like snakes? I mean, I can certainly put myself into that category. I'm not fond of the things. And, of course, I live in a part of the country where they are not uncommon. I've had a few too-close encounters with rattlesnakes. Thankfully, none of these involved any direct contact. But even any number of non-venomous snakes -- if I see these, I will go in the other direction.

You can look all the way back in the Bible. Eve is said to have been tempted by a "serpent". Was this just a metaphor for the devil, or had Lucifer actually taken on a snake-like form? Snakes don't get a very good reputation in Scripture, or, for that matter, in modern pop-culture fiction.

In the TV mini-series, and subsequent TV series "V", the alien Visitors, initially seemingly as human in appearance as you or I, are revealed to be humanoid reptiles. That eat mammalian prey. Including humans.

In the world of G.I. Joe, the bad guys are -- who? Cobra, named after an especially deadly species of snake. Although the Cobra personnel are human (with the possible exception of a few that Dr. Mindbender has gotten his hands on), their name is based on that of a snake, and many of the trooper divisions have the suffix of "Viper" -- Tele-Viper, Night-Viper, Techno-Viper, Hazard-Viper...

Or consider comic books. One of Spider-Man's most notable enemies is called The Lizard. Dr. Curt Connors, trying to duplicate the ability of many lizards to regrow their limbs, and make the process applicable to humans, including himself since he was missing an arm, instead transformed himself into a humanoid lizard -- and not a pleasant one, either.

Now, I don't think most people have as much of a problem with lizards as they do with snakes. Consider who the mascot of a certain insurance company is. And I have a couple of geckos that like to hang around outside my front door. Fine and well. They can eat all the bugs they like. So lizards -- not as much of a problem.

But snakes? People really don't like snakes. I tried to think of an occasion where a distinctly reptilian character was a prominent, really heroic good guy in any sufficiently well-known pop-culture concept, and maybe I've missed something, but I came up empty.

Which brings us to Masters of the Universe. On a world such as Eternia, where it seems almost any form of life has a decent chance of developing into a sentient humanoid species, it's no great surprise that there are Snake-Men. And it's likely no great surprise that those Snake-Men are not very nice.

Within the Masters of the Universe Classics line, the Snake-Men have started to return. We've had figures for King Hssss and Kobra Khan, the latter a sort of honorary Snake Man since in the original line he was actually introduced before the Snake-Men concept was developed, and word is that Rattlor is in the works. In the meantime, however, we have a Snake-Men two-pack of basic generic Snake-Men soldiers.

Let's consider the history of the Snake-Men, both within the toy line and the story concept, and then have a look at these figures.

Released later in the original franchise's run, there was considerable retconning to work the Snake Men into the existing Masters of the Universe mythos.

In the distant past the Snake Men were a vast, ruthless army that conquered numerous worlds, and served an evil ruler named King Hiss. Hiss and the Snake Men tried to conquer Eternia, and created Snake Mountain as their base of operations. However, the Elders of Eternia proved too powerful for the Snake Men and used their magic to cast Hiss and his army into a limbo-like dimension. This caused the empire of the Snake Men to collapse, although a small number of them remained on Eternia. Eventually, Hiss is set free by Skeletor, who had made Snake Mountain his base.

Hiss and Skeletor form an uneasy alliance against He-Man, the greatest opposition to their mutual dreams of conquest. Skeletor's Snake Man minion, Kobra Khan, serves as his ambassador to King Hiss. Together the two villains are able to trap He-Man. They attempt to use their combined magic to pull the entire Snake Man army back into Eternia, but even their combined magical abilities united are only strong enough to return two snake soldiers: Tung Lashor and Rattlor, who had been on Etheria in the employ of the Horde. Realizing that they need more potent magic to resurrect the entire army, Hiss and Skeletor take He-Man's Power Sword, and attempt to use it to summon forth all the Snake Men. However, He-Man is able to free himself and recover his sword, foiling the return of the reptilian hordes.

Despite their initial failure, King Hiss and Skeletor move forward with their plans of conquest. The two villains once again combine their magic to raise three great towers that had been buried eons ago by the Elders of Eternia. The Elders had sunk the towers below the earth to ensure that they would never fall into the hands of the Snake Men or any other evil forces. The three towers were Grayskull Tower, which possesses the power of good, Viper Tower, possessing the power of evil and Central Tower which possesses the power of both. Hiss and Skeletor both secretly plan to betray each other once they have taken control of the towers. Though Skeletor is unable to conquer the Central Tower, a feat which would have given him the power of all three towers, King Hiss is able to seize Viper Tower. Using the magic of Viper Tower he is able to transport two more Snake Men from limbo, Snake Face and Sssqueeze.

Not long after, in a battle in Viper Tower, He-Man turns all the Snake Men into stone, by reflecting Snake Face's power of petrifaction back at them. Snake Face and Sssqueeze appear in the later minicomic "Energy Zoids".

Later He-Man and the Sorceress venture into Eternia's past, to the time when the Snake Men originally invaded Eternia. Witnessing the Snake Men terrorizing a village He-Man wants to step in, however the Sorceress prevents him, as his interference could alter history. However, unbeknownst to the Sorceress, Skeletor had followed them through the time stream. Upon arriving he joins forces with King Hiss, saying that he wishes to help them and that his magic powers could help destroy the Elders. King Hiss accepts Skeletor offer and thinking to himself "Perhaps this is an emissary from the Unnamed One whom we serve". The full meaning of this statement is never disclosed. The Snake Men rode into battle on the backs of mechanically augmented dinosaurs.

Seeing that Skeletor had entered the past, the Sorceress decides that it is necessary for He-Man to become involved, disguising him with her magic, she sends He-Man into battle against Skeletor, King Hiss and the Snake Man army. However, before the battle can conclude a shadowy figure, He-Ro, intervens. Using magic he hurls Skeletor, the Sorceress and He-Man back to the future. The final fate of the Snake Men is never revealed, as the Masters of Universe toyline and its accompanying mini comics came to end.

None of the Snake Men are featured on Filmation's animated series, with the exception of Kobra Khan, a snake figure in Skeletor's service introduced earlier in the franchise's run. When the Snake Men were introduced, Kobra Khan was said to be a go-between, working for both Skeletor and King Hiss. The cartoon series had ceased production before the Snake Men could be introduced. Two Snake Men, Rattlor and Tung Lashor, were adapted to appear in the spin-off She-Ra: Princess of Power series, where they worked for Hordak as members of the Evil Horde, portrayed as generic warriors with no nod to their Snake Men origins.

The Snake Men play a large role in the second season of the 2002-era cartoon series. They are a diverse group led by King Hiss, who prove to be as much a danger as Skeletor, who only makes three appearances through the entire story arc. Similar to the old story, the Snake Men are an ancient threat that plagued Eternia in the distant past until they were locked away in the void by the power of the Elders. The threat of the Snake Men was so ancient that in a way it predated the creation of the Elders themselves during the time of King Grayskull who fought against this menace. However, in this new version, they are presented as a very strong army, who, as well as taking on He-Man, are also at war with Skeletor instead of forging an alliance with him.

In one particular episode, both Teela and Man-At-Arms are temporarily transformed into Snake-Men versions of themselves. Had the 2002-era series continued for a third season, there are some reports that this change would have been permanent. The third series would have also featured the return of Hordak and the Evil Horde, who had not appeared except in flashback sequences up to that point, and some rather interesting shifting alliances.

The 2002-era toy line did produce a Snake-Men version of Teela as a ToyFare exclusive, and one of the recent Classics figures was a Snake-Men version of Man-At-Arms.

A three-issue comic series, produced by Dark Horse comics and basing its story to some degree on the earlier mini-comic story outlined above, and culminating with its third issue, which was packaged with Dragon Blaster Skeletor, available in the same month as this Snake-Men two-pack, shows Snake-Man-At-Arms being killed by Clamp Champ, even as He-Man and the Masters must ally themselves with Skeletor and his minions to overthrow the combined forces of the Horde and the Snake-Men on the Second Ultimate Battleground, a story that has long been hinted at on the character biographies that come with the toys.

So, how are the figures? Extremely impressive. This isn't the first time that there's been a two-pack of somewhat "generic" soldier types in the Masters of the Universe Classics line. There was the Eternian Guard a while back. And if Mattel ever decided to do a two-pack of Horde Troopers, I would not object. But for now, let's consider these Snake-Men.

The two figures are entirely different from each other, and unfortunately, they don't have names of their own. You know, these guys really need individual names. I mean, just because they're "grunts" in the Snake-Men, doesn't mean they don't have individual identities. What should I name them? Abbott and Costello? Laurel and Hardy? Kirk and Spock? Odo and Quark? Shaggy and Scooby? Beavis and Butthead? Wait, there's already a Butthead in the Masters lexicon, one of the mutants from the "New Adventures" series. Scratch that.

Anyway, for the sake of simplicity, one of these Snake-Men has a mostly tan body, while the other one is more yellow-orange. So that's how I'll refer to them for the purposes of this review.

Of the two of them, the tan one is probably the more visually interesting, and this is due in large part to the fact that he has an extremely distinctive body. Although as one would expect, he has a standard torso, and is wearing a standard belt with the usual fur loincloth, his arms and legs are very heavily scaled.

The arms have a very intricate pattern of scales running all the way from the shoulders to the hands. Now, think about the way these figures are made. That's four parts per arm -- shoulder, upper arm, lower arm, and hand. Multiply that by two. Then add the legs -- upper leg, lower leg, and the foot. That's three -- times two. And the feet are certainly interesting, with two distinct toes up front, and these odd protrusions at the ankles and heels.

Still, that's a total of fourteen new parts for this figure, that have never appeared anywhere before, and that doesn't even count the head -- which is to be expected. But not the arms and legs. I couldn't quite see Mattel crafting this many new parts for a "grunt" figure like this, and it seems I was right. After being provided with some information from a friend, it seems that these body parts will be used on the forthcoming figure of a more distinctive Snake-Man figure that has more of a history in the line -- specifically Rattlor.

Looking at the design of the scales, it makes sense. Rattlor will be a more colorful fellow than this Snake-Man, but by using his body molds on this figure as well, Mattel gets a second use out of what was doubtless an expensive new set of body molds.

This Snake Man is almost entirely tan in color. He's wearing a silver belt with a brown loincloth, and mostly blue chest armor, which offsets his skin color very effectively. The armor is layered and has silver trim on it, and a brown plate in the center with the green Snake-Men emblem embossed into it.

A separate neck piece has been attached to the otherwise traditional torso, to give the appearance of a serpentine neck. The headsculpt that the figure is packaged with (each of these Snake-Men comes with a second head which I will discuss in a bit), looks to me a lot like the head of a rattlesnake -- if there were such a thing as a rattlesnake with large frilled scales over its eyes, and a couple more on the back of its head.

Still, I have little doubt that the superb sculptors of the Four Horsemen did some research into snakes before crafting all of the headsculpts in this set. There's nothing at all human-looking about these heads. They're entirely snake-like. This particular Snake-Man has two white fangs showing up front (bit of an overbite problem there, pal?) and two bright green eyes -- no visible pupils.

Now let's consider the other Snake-Man in the set, the yellow-orange one. Unlike his compatriot, he doesn't have any really distinctly snake-like body parts, except for his head, of course. He does use a scaled loincloth, rather than a furry one, and his lower legs are encased in scale-like, footless boots, but these are molds that have seen use before. Kobra Khan has used them, for one thing. I'm almost surprised that Khan's upper body wasn't used here, as it hasn't seen a second use to date and is quite distinctive, but perhaps we'll see it again somewhere sometime.

Regardless, this particular Snake-Man uses the traditional torso. His arms are standard, and his lower arms are the ones used on any number of bad guys, that have the various narrow spikes coming out of it. His upper legs are the two that have the series of ridges along the sides, and his feet are the three-toed versions with the claw-like toenails, that have been seen on any number of figures from Skeletor on down.

Overall, it's a combination that works very well, and in this instance is possessed of an unusual color scheme. I can't think of a lot of characters out there that are this particular color.

This Snake-Man has a certain amount of lightly airbrushed detail on him, mostly on his chest, that is about half a shade lighter than the rest of his skin, that provides a nice enhancement to his appearance. His belt is a dark blue in color, with metallic trim, and his loincloth and partial boots are brown.

The figure is wearing some interesting armor. I's sort of call it half a chestplate. It protects one side of his chest, and most of his back, as well as his left shoulder. Not the most practical design, I must say, but it does look cool, and I've never seen any other character in the line wear anything quite like it. Like the rest of this Snake-Man's wardrobe, it's mostly brown, with metallic blue trim. The bright green Snake-Man emblem is on the chestplate.

This figure's mean headsculpt is even more snake-like than his friend's. He has the same neck extension as the other figure. The nose is a little more pushed in, but, lacking the frills over the eyes, he manages to look even more menacing. The eyes are red, and the mouth on this one is open, revealing a scary looking red-painted mouth inside, complete with forked tongue, and four fangs, two on the top, two on the bottom.

Now, as I said, the figures each come with second heads. These are not to just make alternate versions of the "same characters", but rather entirely different Snake-Men, that just happen to have the same body color and armor. It's possible, I suppose. King Hssss probably has control of several species of reptilian humanoids, and I doubt he's going to be that concerned about how they're outfitted.

The second "tan" head has yellow eyes, and lacks the frilled scales. It's got a more prominent nose, and the mouth is open, revealing a dark red interior, and four fangs. Really, it's a nastier-looking head than the one the figure is wearing when you first open him.

The second "yellow-orange" head has light silver-blue eyes, and a closed mouth. However, it's a slightly longer head than the other, with a more pointed nose. Two fangs protrude from the upper jaw.

Any of these heads, properly placed, will result in a mean-looking Snake-Man figure. Of course, proper weaponry also helps, and the Snake-Men do not show up unarmed. There is a somewhat triangular shield, a sword with a curved blade, a long pike with a sword-like tip, also with a curved blade, and a very odd-looking mace with a ridged ball and a number of spikes protruding from it. All of these weapons are very well made and nicely detailed, and are silver in color with black handles or other features.

Of course, the figures themselves are superbly articulated, and are fully poseable at the heads, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torsos, waists, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, and ankles. The yellow-orange Snake-Man has the additional feature of articulation at the boot tops.

Here is the biographical information from the scroll-like card on their package:

SNAKE MEN
Slithering Minions of King Hssss
Real Name: Varies

A hybrid of three cold-blooded alien races, the Snake Men were spliced together and bred by the Unnamed One to serve as loyal foot soldiers in his ever-growing army. Several battalions of Snake Men were assigned to the Viper Lord King Hssss and traveled with him to Eternia to plunder its hidden magic for their formless master. Unprepared for an attack by invading Horde armies, the Snake Army was driven into hibernation and eventually trapped in the Void by the warrior Zodak. Five millennia later, Hssss and his reptile army escaped their imprisonment and once again took up the fight to claim Eternia. Snake Men fight loyally in the armies of King Hssss against the heroic Masters of the Universe.

Makes you wonder about this "Unnamed One", but I doubt we'll be seeing a figure of him. I mean -- "formless master"? I'm still surprised they gave us the Faceless One a while back.

So, what's my final word? I may not be terribly fond of snakes, and I don't care for what these guys did to Man-At-Arms within the story context. However, I am impressed with the figures, and even though this two-pack doesn't feature any known, named Snake-Men (give it time, we're at least getting Rattlor), they're still both extremely impressive figures, which I sincerely believe any Masters of the Universe fan will be delighted to own. I certainly am.

The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS SNAKE-MEN TWO-PACK definitely has my highest recommendation!