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By Thomas Wheeler

Mattel's excellent line of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figures, available exclusively on their "MattyCollector" web site, continues with STRATOS!

I'll admit, Stratos was never a favorite character of mine, but at the reasonable rate of one figure per month, I figure I might as well get everybody in this line, although I do recommend ordering promptly. While I have no real idea what the production numbers of these toys are, the word around is that Stratos sold out in five days.

Mattel seems to be dealing effectively with some early quality control problems, as well, that have also plagued their DC Universe Classics line. Although I experienced a few glitches with Beast Man and He-Man, in the latter case it being serious enough to warrant sending the figure back for a replacement, I had no problems with Skeletor, and Stratos is in good shape, as well. I am sincerely hopeful that it is a trend that will continue as the line progresses.

Mattel could easily get years out of this line, and I sincerely hope they do. It seems to be a hit with Masters fans, if the rather quick "Sold Out" status is any indication (although that's also proving to be a source of some very understandable frustration, as well), and general comments on Masters-devoted Web Sites.

Stratos is a logical choice for appearing this early in the line. We now have He-Man and Skeletor, as well as one of Skeletor's main lackeys in Beast Man. And since Stratos, both in the original line and here in the Classics, used the same furry body mold as Beast Man, he was a logical character to come next.

I'm not sure why I never really saw Stratos as a personal favorite. It might've been the relatively dull color. He's mostly grey. It might've been the moderate confusion of a character with a furry body, who nevertheless had wings on his arms. It could've even been the face. Honestly, up until I read the character bio that was on the back of the package, I wasn't certain if Stratos actually possessed some deliberate simian characteristics, or if he was just an exceptionally hairy and somewhat ugly guy with a bad overbite.

Also, despite being one of the earliest Masters, in the original animated series, he didn't seem to be that major a character. He certainly wasn't in the same category as He-Man, Man-At-Arms, Teela, Skeletor, or some of the others. He did turn up more often, it seemed, in the 2002 animated series.

The background information on the character is as follows:

Stratos is a member of the Heroic Warriors. He is the leader of a race of Bird People from the land of Avion, Eternians with the power of flight and other bird-like abilities. The Bird People are close allies of He-Man, and Stratos is one of his most trusted warriors. Besides the power of flight and his aerial acrobatic skills, Stratos is also a handy spy for the Heroic Warriors due to his sharp, bird-like eyes. He can also fire energy blasts from his hands.

Stratos is unusual in the original toy line because, like Moss Man, his action figure uses Beast Man's mold. Stratos' figure has a gray hairy body. Also, the mold had unusual "brass knuckles" on the right hand. In the mini-comics, Stratos often fires lasers from this device, though it is not seen in other media.

Stratos' portrayal in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, cartoon series by Filmation is generally consistent with his portrayal in Mattel's mini-comics. He is the leader of the Bird People, who inhabit the airborne land of Avion, located high in the Mystic Mountains. Although he rules over the Bird People, he is frequently called away from Avion to aid He-Man in his battles against Skeletor.

In the mini-comics, Stratos is married to an ordinary human girl, Delora, who also appears in numerous storybooks of the time. In "Wings of Doom", by Ladybird Books, she appears as a blonde Avian with blue clothes, but still Stratos' wife. However, the cartoon makes a significant change to Delora's character by making her Stratos' sister rather than his wife, and therefore one of the Bird People as well. This change was made because the show's producers did not feel their target audience of young boys would react well to love interests within the show.

Stratos appears regularly in the early episodes, often fighting alongside Ram-Man. His most significant episode is "Reign of the Monster", which focuses around his kingdom coming under attack by Skeletor. The episode features the only cartoon appearance of Delora. The story was later adapted into the mini-comic "The Seige of Avion".

Despite being established as one of He-Man's leading battle comrades, Stratos receives little character development in comparison to other characters, and as a result gradually fades into the background of the series, to the point that his character is almost forgotten, his appearances sparse at best. However, in the middle of the show's second season another episode is written around him: "Betrayal of Stratos", in which he is exiled from Avion after being framed for a crime by a vengeful Birdwoman, Hawk. This episode reveales that his people gain their power of flight from the Egg of Avion, a large egg, which presumably powers the jetpacks on their backs.

Mattel originally intended the character of Stratos to be evil, as is evidenced in early, unreleased promotional material for the toy line and hinted at in the very early mini-comics.

Stratos was used in the 2002 relaunch of the Masters of the Universe franchise. His appearance is slightly modified. Whereas in the old continuity his wings seem to be merely attached to his body, the relaunch depicts him with large, widespread wings which are part of his anatomy, and his jetpack serves to enhance, rather than produce, his power of flight. In the new cartoon series, Stratos is seemingly one of the older members of the Masters, and is given a Scottish accent remarkably similar to that of actor Sean Connery. Actually, Stratos was voiced by Scott McNeil.

His Bird People once again feature in the new series. The most prominent bird person besides himself is a birdwoman named Hawk, who seems to be a combination of the 80s series' characters Hawk and Delora. Although she shares her name with the classic character Hawk, her personality is different. She is close and loyal to Stratos rather than power-hungry and vengeful like her '80s counterpart. Although their family relationship is never actually mentioned in the series, she is also Stratos' sister, like Delora in the '80s cartoon. This is stated in the series "bible" as well as the comic books that accompany the show.

Stratos' most significant episodes of the new show are "Sky War", which features his people being manipulated by Skeletor into entering a war with Buzz-Off's race, and "Trust", in which he is forced into forming an uneasy alliance with Trap-Jaw to cross the Ice Mountains.

As to his genetic origins -- one still wonders if this guy is man, monkey, or bird -- that information comes from the character bio printed on the package.

I have to say I've been very grateful for these. The original line didn't do these. It was G.I. Joe that set the standard for file cards, and not even the 2002 line bothered with them. It's rather nice to see something official from Mattel regarding their own characters. The backstories are no doubt derived and assembled as best as possible from all major sources, which would logically include the original mini-comics (as far as they go), and both the Filmation and Mike Young animated series. Stratos' reads as follows:


Real Name: Stratos of the House of Avion

Lord of Avion, a civilization of winged simians who live high on the peaks of the Mystic Mountains, Stratos is a brave, honorable warrior allied with King Randor. Although all Avions have the ability to flt using the magical Emerald Staff, many, including Stratos, have augmented their armor with rocket packs and jets to increase their speed and distance. As a member of the Masters of the Universe, Stratos fights bravely against the evil forces of Skeletor.

The bio does prove one thing -- the Avions do have a simian origin. Yes, folks, Masters of the Universe does have its own version of flying monkeys! Probably be best not to call them that to their face, though.

The one thing that I don't think has ever entirely been made clear, at least in the toys, is whether the wings on Stratos' arms are supposed to be natural or mechanical. I mean, sure, they look like feathers, but so do Hawkman's, and his are artificial. And to be perfectly honest, the wings don't look terribly practical. They're long, narrow, and are rooted at the wrist? I'm just not sure how effective they'd be.

Since I never owned the original Stratos from the 1980's, I can't comment on that figure, but the 2002 one, those wings and Mattel's determination to detail these semi-anime-inspired figures as much as possible resulted in, frankly, a very strange figure. Stratos' arms could only move out to the side, a severe hindrance in my opinion, and although the elbows were articulated, it didn't help much. The wings attached to his wrists appeared to be artificial, but were also hinged, but since they bent outwards, the end result was a figure with an almost impossibly narrow wingspan, half of which was arm.

While the Classics Stratos doesn't answer all the questions regarding flight, at least the backpack does look like a jet pack, the cumbersome cables are gone, and the figure has vastly superior articulation. As before, the wings are attached to the wrist, with wristbands that give one the distinct impression that they are artificial. There are non-working hinge points along the backs of the wings. The feathers are very nicely detailed.

Stratos is wearing a blue harness that has a simple but functional-looking dual jet-pack on the back. No sign of the so-called "Egg of Avion", but perhaps it's incorporated into the inner workings somehow. Whatever the case, if one accepts the fantasy universe of Eternia to begin with, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine Stratos and his people using the jet packs as their primary mode of flight, with Stratos arguably having a more powerful one than most, with the wings on the arms providing a sort of additional stability and or maneuverability.

They might also serve to function as the means of a reasonably safe gliding landing in case the jet pack runs out of fuel. "

So, how's the figure on the whole? Excellent. It's like I've been saying right along with these Masters of the Universe Classics -- what we have here is likely the ultimate Masters. They capture the essence of the character from that character's earliest days, throw in a proper level of the heightened detail of the 2002 line without going overboard with it, create a good overall bodily proportion that is neither the stumpy, bow-legged look of the originals or the anime extreme of the 2002's, and yet manages to respect both of them, and then throws in a level of articulation that I wish either of the lines had had from the outset.

(If the 2002 line made one colossal design mistake, it was in not bringing up the articulation.)

Stratos follows this plan admirably well. The headsculpt is excellent, catching the look of the helmeted, large-eyed warriors superbly well, right down to the bearded semi-monkey face. The body is mostly that of Beast Man, just as the original was, except in this case using a dark grey. Stratos shares Beast Man's long, tapered, and somewhat clawed fingers. What he doesn't share is Beast Man's feet.

The original Stratos had -- just plain feet. It appeared as though he was wearing some sort of very plain foot covering that just happened to be the same color as his fur. As far as I've been able to determine from photographs, so did the original Beast Man. The 2002 Stratos had bare feet, that were more or less human, but in another nod to the simian background, the big toe was longer and distinctly separate from the other four. Interestingly, the Classics Beast Man has bare feet, ending in five clawed toes..

But the Classics Stratos has -- just plain feet. Not clawed toes, not an extending big toe -- just feet. There's no apparent demarcation point, other than the articulation joint itself, between the furry lower legs, and the plain grey feet. And there's a similar lack of detail. No fur, no primitive boot wrappings. Just feet. I'm not saying it looks bad, or that it's even that big of a deal, but it is interesting that Mattel went this extra step to match the original figure, since I suspect they could have used the Beast Man feet had they wanted to.

As Stratos' grey body isn't especially colorful, it is up to the accouterments to provide a bit of color, as they did before. Stratos' furry loincloth (the fur-tailors on Eternia must be the richest men short of King Randor himself) is blue, with a red belt. His jet pack harness is blue, with light blue buckle, and light blue feathers at the shoulders. The wings attached to his wristbands are red, as is his helmet, with a blue border and visor, and either black lenses, or Stratos' eyes are bigger than I would've guessed. Given that there seems to be something of a grey eyelid over each, I'm inclined to think the latter.

Of course, one thing these Masters Classics figures have all over any of their ancestors is articulation. Stratos is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.

One interesting note. He-Man, Skeletor, and King Grayskull, and presumably any Masters figure that wears actual boots as opposed to those who don't, which presently includes Beast Man and Stratos, have an additional articulation point, a rotation at the top of the boot. Beast Man and Stratos lack this. It's not a big deal, but it's worth mentioning.

The figure doesn't come with any separate accessories, but that doesn't bother me. One less thing to lose, as far as I'm concerned. Besides, between the wings and the jet pack, both of which are attached, I think that pretty well took care of the accessory budget.

So what's my final word here? I'm impressed. I have nothing to complain about with this figure, and I sincerely hope that remains the case throughout what I also sincerely hope will be a long and healthy run for this line. If Mattel can maintain the quality levels that this figure clearly shows they are capable of, then I want to see them do everybody in the Masters universe! Bring on Snout Spout! Bring on Jitsu! Bring on Ninjor! Bring on Stinkor! The list goes on...

Stratos may have sold out from the MattyCollector Web Site, but there's probably some other secondary ways through which to acquire this figure. And he is a worthy and impressive addition to a worthy and increasingly impressive action figure line. The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of STRATOS most definitely has my highest recommendation!