The last three HoF articles have been firmly anchored in the awesome ’80s. Now we bring this shit right up to the 21st Century: 2011 to be precise. Now don’t fret, we’ll return to the ’80s in future HoF articles soon enough. But right now, we need to spend some time in the world of the Masters. Yeah, the MASTERS OF THE FREAKIN’ UNIVERSE.
The history of Masters of the Universe (MoTU) is a long, convoluted and messy one: not just the history of the toyline, but also the history of the deep mythology that has been woven around it through the comics, cartoons, character bio’s, movie and more. To be frank, MoTU’s history is a story that’s been told many times before by people better qualified than myself and not really the subject of this article. But suffice it to say, MoTU has seen many different toy incarnations throughout it’s 34 year lifespan. In summary these are the five main lines:
- Masters of the Universe (1982-1988)
- He-Man (The New Adventures of He-Man) (1990-1992)
- Masters of the Universe (200x) (2002-2007) including the NECA mini statues
- Masters of the Universe Classics (2008-current)
- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Classics (Filmation) (2016-?)
If you include the She-Ra toyline and cartoon, which has been incorporated into the overall MoTU mythology, that brings the total of toylines to six.
I’ll be honest, I liked MoTU during the 80’s. Like every other kid, I too watched the Filmation cartoon and had a handful of the figures. We had a Castle Grayskull in our house along with a small selection of vehicles. Yet I was never deep into it like I was with Star Wars or Transformers. I found the figures’ proportions a bit goofy looking and some of the latter characters somewhat junky but I had friends who were nuts about it. So hanging out at my MoTU mate’s house was enough for me to get my fix.
As I went through my twenties throughout the 90’s MoTU kinda dropped from the landscape. It was never a constant like Star Wars or Transformers. There were no toys in the marketplace, no noisy fanbase, no TV show. It seemed to be forgotten. Then sometime in 2001 I was reading a pop culture mag and there was an article about a soon-to-be released new Masters of the Universe toyline from Mattel. “Holy Shit!” I thought to myself. As I often do. Attached to the article were a few pre-production images of the upcoming figures sculpted by the amazing Four Horsemen Studios. I laid my eyeballs upon the redesigned He-Man and thought “Yes! That’s what Masters should look like!” I knew then that I had to track some of these new toys down when they came on the market in 2002. I did and that’s when my fascination with MoTU started in earnest. Here were some toys that looked really cool, had a great mythology and new cartoon behind them.
The 2002 incarnation of MoTU was very representative of the trend in action figures of the late ’90s/early 2000s: lots of musculature and hyper detailed. They spoke of the time yet resonated with the nostalgia of the adult collector. Each figure had its own unique sculpt and rarely were parts used across multiple figures as they were in the original ’80s toyline. This created a dynamic and varied looking range of figures that displayed fantastically well.
Then Mattel proceeded to screw it.
As the result of a slow international roll-out (several key countries did not get the early waves), non-existent advertising, poor case mixes, far too many variants of He-Man and Skeletor and a cartoon that was not picked up by enough major networks, the line crashed and burned inside of a few years. Collectors could see the writing on the wall and scrambled to pick up the key characters, paying stupid third-party prices to do so. By 2005/6 this new version of MoTU was dead. It seemed as if that dungeon door had been slammed firmly shut on He-Man and his pals and it would be a long time, if ever, that the Masters would break free to enjoy their own toyline again.
Sometime around this period, at a major comic convention, the Four Horsemen Studios displayed their own unsolicited take on a hypothetical new MoTU line. These were the guys that had sculpted the doomed 2002 incarnation for Mattel, but this new design of He-Man was something totally different: more austere in detail and highly evocative of the original MoTU, but better proportioned, better sized, better articulated, better painted, just better, better, better.
The Four Horsemen knew that despite the failure of the 2002 line, there was still a very loyal fanbase out there that wanted new MoTU toys and they weren’t kids. They were Adult Collectors. Their pitch was to make a toyline that would not be sold at retail outlets, rather only sold through Mattel’s website and aimed strictly at adults. The mock-up of He-Man on display at the convention got some serious attention and thankfully a few people at Mattel started to take notice. By 2008 the first Masters of the Universe Classics Figure, King Grayskull, went on sale at San Diego Comic Con as an exclusive. That was soon followed by Beast Man and He-Man which were only available through Mattel’s MattyCollector website.
One character was to be released per month. Initially this was going to be a limited line, with a view to releasing the original 8 characters from the ’80s incarnation. But then Skeletor appeared and he ushered in a boom in popularity. These figures went from taking a few weeks to sell out to selling out in hours, then minutes. Mattel had a juggernaut on its hands and had to scramble to keep up with demand. By it’s second year, MoTU Classics had shifted to a subscription based model: meaning collectors had to commit to a year’s worth of figures sight unseen and pay upfront. Remaining stock would then be made available to the general public. That meant the popular figures would be limited to only a very small amount of stock by the time the non subscribers could get their hit. The demand was increasing and Mattel were criminally underproducing the figures. Just ask the people who were paying in the hundreds to get a Trap-Jaw or Fisto on the second hand market.
Anyway, leaving Mattel’s shocking business model aside, let’s finally get to Man-E-Faces: a character which for me, is an absolute stand-out in this line. There are others I’ll get to in future articles but right now, it’s Man-E’s moment.
To say the Classics line was controversial among collectors would be an understatment. Apart from Mattel’s insidious subscription model, Classics has been plagued by quality control issues, strange character choices and insanely low production runs on characters known to be hugely popular and anticipated. They certainly dropped the ball on a number of releases: Rio Blast was an atrocity with ill-fitting accessories and terrible engineering decisions. Dragon Blaster Skeletor, while great looking, was cast in black plastic, meaning moving his limbs could create paint wear leaving black marks. The same for Spikor and Mekaneck. King Hssss was released with reversed shoulders. Snout Spout’s trunk was made of such poor material that it would perish just sitting on your shelf. These are issues which are simply not acceptable for a high priced adult toyline. But when Mattel got it right, and most of the time they did, they totally nailed it.
Man-E-Faces was released in 2011. I was a non-subscriber and cherry-picking these figures based on personal nostalgia and the ones that looked coolest. Thankfully, many of the online toy retailers had bought into the subscription model and were on-selling the Classics figures at fairly reasonable prices. Man-E was not a character I was particularly looking forward to; after all, the original ’80s version was pretty dumb looking with an oversized head to accomodate his rotating face gimmick. But then the pre-production images went online and I immediately underwent a conversion. “Holy Shit!” I once again thought, “They actually made Man-E-Faces look good!” Soon after I managed to get my hands on this triple-faced freak.
According to the newly written bio on the back of his box, Man-E-Faces now had a ‘real’ name: ‘Perkaedo’. Yeah. Anyway… sounds more like someone who was the Heroic Master of Making Coffee than a face-swapping bad-ass. He was an actor who was turned evil by that bone-headed prick, Skeletor. As a result, he became an actor who learned how to kick arse and take names.
So why do I dig this figure so much? I guess it’s because every facet has been done right. It’s incredibly pleasing to the eye and I love the integration of the face-changing gimmick. Good design is simple design and Man-E is the essence of making the most of a few simple ingredients creating a whole which is greater than the sum of the parts.
Man-E-Faces epitomises what is so great and unique about MoTU: a brilliant mix of Sci-Fi and Barbarian themes with bat-shit crazy character concepts. His colours really pop: The bold blue and purple combo combined with the accent of the orange gun really hits the right chord with my optic nerve. His build quality and engineering are great. The ’80s incarnation of Man-E did not have the ability to turn at the neck due to the mechanism in his head. But this has been corrected in the Classics version using a very simple and very clever piece of engineering. The 2002 version of Man-E-Faces could turn at the neck too but you were lucky to get 15 degrees out of it. It is also now possible to remove the three-faced head within the helmet and swap it out with a different one which was included with the figure. That extra head includes the faces of He-Man, Skeletor and (barf) Orko… So Man-E-Faces has gone from having three different faces to six! Son of a bitch.
Unlike earlier versions of the character, the Classics version is extremely well proportioned. The head, while still large, manages to look right when compared to the rest of the body. The paint applications are all spot on and the colour choice for the flesh tone is a real nod to the original cross-sell artwork from the ’80s toyline. After all, emulating this cross-sell art was one of the core-principles of the early Classics figures.
I suppose in essence, my reason for liking this figure so much is that I just think it looks great. The three main faces are all fantastic updates of the ’80s version: Human, Robot…Monster! I dunno which is my favorite. I display him in Human mode, but that Monster face is shit-hot.
Don’t get me wrong, there are other figures in the Classics line which I revere just as highly as Man-E-Faces and I’ll get to those in later articles, but I thought this guy represented how a modern take on an old character can really change your appreciation of that character. Before Classics, I never really gave old Perkaedo much credit. And speaking of credit, I don’t think this figure gets enough of it. He’s certainly in my Top 5 of the Classics line and a worthy entrant in the Tonk’s Hall of Fame.
As adult collectors we really are spoilt for choice with what’s available in the marketplace today. Pretty much anything from your childhood has been re-imagined and re-released in some form today and designed specifically to hit that nostalgia button located right at the tip of your brain-stem. MoTU Classics is representative of that. Make the most of this golden time, guys. Because like all good things, it won’t last forever.