REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS 30th ANNIVERSARY SERIES DRAEGO-MAN
2012 is the 30th Anniversary of Masters of the Universe. He-Man and his friends and foes came upon the scene in 1982, followed quickly by a superb animated series by Filmation, that broke a number of barriers, including that of first-run syndication for an animated series. Had it not been for the success of "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe", we might well not have enjoyed many of the fine syndicated animated series that followed, from G.I. Joe and Transformers, to DuckTales and Batman, to many others.
Although the original Masters of the Universe line had a far shorter run than its contemporaries, such as G.I. Joe and Transformers, it acquired enough of a following in pop-culture fandom so that it is generally remembered fondly and with the same sort of prominent as the other two. If you were to ask someone to name the top three toy-based pop-culture concepts of the 1980's, chances are good that these three lines would be the ones mentioned. That's not to say that there weren't others -- ThunderCats, MASK -- but let's face it, if this was the Justice League, well, somebody's got to be Superman and Batman, and somebody's got to be Flash and Martian Manhunter.
The saga of the Masters is a fairly convoluted one. Following a successful animated series and toy line, as well as a spin-off toy line and animated series featuring He-Man's sister, She-Ra: Princess of Power, a new toy line was created not long after, called simply "He-Man", which totally redesigned the figures and introduced an almost completely new cast, as He-Man and Skeletor were sent into space for a more science-fiction based storyline, reflected in an animated series called "The New Adventures of He-Man." Reaction was understandably mixed.
In 2002, Masters of the Universe returned, with all-new, highly-stylized figures, and a brand new and far edgier animated series from Mike Young Productions. This concept enjoyed several years of success, but quirky distribution of the toys and other factors brought it to an untimely end.
Now, we have MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS -- and how we got there is something that I'll be discussing within this review. Looking very much as though they stepped right out of the animated series, these better-proportioned, highly-detailed, and certainly vastly more articulated action figures have been the mainstay of Mattel's online site, "MattyCollector.Com", for several years now, with one or two figures offered each month, sending collectors scrambling to their computers on or around the 15th, and subscribers crossing their fingers and hoping for the UPS truck or the postman to show up in good order.
For the 30th Anniversary of the Masters, Mattel is producing a special assortment of action figures, one every other month. The first of those figures was FEARLESS PHOTOG, a character originally designed 25 years ago by then-12-year-old Nathan Bitner, whose idea won a "Design-A-Figure" contest, but whose figure never saw the light of day because of the demise of the original line in 1987. One would hope that Mr. Bitner appreciates the value of patience, and I hope Mattel sent him a free figure of Photog. The last of these special anniversary figures will be the winner of the newest Design-A-Figure Contest. I haven't heard who the winner might be, or what the figure is, but to date, I haven't heard anything about the entry I sent in, so -- I guess that's one down.
In between will be figures designed by other individuals, either prominent in the pop culture world, or close to Mattel and the Masters. The first of these figures, not surprisingly in the least, was designed by Four Horsemen Studios, who are not only the designers and sculptors of the Masters of the Universe Classics line for Mattel, but also the DC Universe Classics line, and other projects, and in fact worked on the 2002-era Masters of the Universe line.
Really, we can thank the Four Horsemen as much as anybody for the return of the Masters. Several years ago, at the San Diego Comic-Con, not long after the demise of the 2002-era line, and the same-scale statues from NECA that followed, which were also designed by the Horsemen, the team presented a new incarnation of He-Man. Gone was the somewhat anime-styling of the 2002-era line. In its place was a well-proportioned, highly designed, and obviously highly articulated figure of He-Man, that managed to capture the classic likeness of the character, as well as no small amount of his original animated counterpart, but taking full advantage of the detail capabilities of modern action figures. There was no commitment behind this figure. If anything, it was present just to test fan reaction.
The fans, need it be said, went nuts for it. Thus was born Masters of the Universe Classics, and this was born MattyCollector.Com, to ensure that the line would not be dependent on retailers, who claimed to want more and more of He-Man and Skeletor, since these were the only names they really recognized, and which then never sold, leaving fans trying to track down short-packed supporting cast figures. I remain convinced to this day that this was the main cause behind the demise of the 2002-era line.
And now, the Four Horsemen have created an entirely new character for the Masters, and his name is DRAEGO-MAN! Since this is an entirely new character, he obviously doesn't have a lot of history in the line, so instead, let's look at the background of the Four Horsemen a bit. A finer group of toy designers you would be hard-pressed to find.
It's interesting, since they started out as professional wrestlers. Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and -- whoops -- wrong Four Horsemen...
Four Horsemen Studios is a group of four action figure sculptors who formerly worked for McFarlane Toys, and whose work has included the modern and classics line of Masters of the Universe toys and the current DC Universe Classics lines.
The Four Horsemen are Chris Dahlberg, Eric Mayse, Eric Treadaway, and Jim Preziosi. Their history, according to their own Web Site "www.fourhorsemen.biz", reads as follows:
The origins of Four Horsemen Toy Design Studios can be traced back to the four partner's days of working together in the trenches of McFarlane Toys. Eric Treadaway, Jim Preziosi, H. Eric "Cornboy" Mayse, and Chris Dahlberg discovered early on that their various abilities worked well together, and they tried to make sure that each new project that came their way became a collaborative effort between them. They went on to create such McFarlane classics as Cy-Gor, Cy-Gor 2, The Crow, Mandarin Spawn, Chucky, Manga Spawn, Leatherface, Manga Freak, The Flukeman, The Monsters Playsets, and three different lines of KISS action figures just to name a few.
After working together at McFarlane Toys for a few years, they realized that the toys that they were having to design and create were moving in a somewhat different direction than they had anticipated. While they understood that there was definitely a market for more posed, statuesque figures, the four wanted to continue to create toys that displayed the detail and dynamic sculpting that they had become known for, while still containing a certain level of "playability". They saw no reason why the action features and articulation of a figure had to be sacrificed in order for it to still remain a cool collectible item. It was during this time that one of them jokingly said that they'd "eventually ride off like four horsemen into the sunset' to start their own toy design company."
Even though they were joking around at the time, the joke soon became reality when an opportunity arose in the form of a friend with major connections within the toy industry. Through various discussions, the four learned that the largest toy company in the world, Mattel, had been considering the possibility of bringing in an outside design group to help in the re-design and re-vamping of some of their core and new brands. The quartet eventually set up a meeting with Mattel and boarded a jet for Los Angeles.
Upon arrival at the Mattel design offices, the four were a little surprised at the loose, easygoing nature of the group that they met with at Mattel. While they'd expected to meet with a bunch of stuffy "suit and tie" types, that couldn't have been further from the truth. While the Mattel guys were definitely professional and knowledgeable about their craft, they were much more "down-to-earth" and approachable than the four had anticipated.
Throughout the discussion, Mattel and the quartet seemed to be on the same page with everything that was discussed. Even when the idea of re-launching He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was thrown out. Everything just seemed to fall into place. Soon after, the newly dubbed "Four Horsemen" had signed an exclusive agreement with Mattel and began work on the He-Man and Skeletor action figure prototypes.
Since then, the Four Horsemen Toy Design Studio has not only helped in Mattel's successful re-design and re-launch of their He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toy line, but they've also done various deluxe figures for Mattel's Harry Potter action figure line, a line of high-end cold-cast collectible Harry Potter statues, a villain for the Max Steel action figure line - the Bio-Constrictor, and a couple of Micro-Hot Wheels playsets that are currently in limbo as to whether they're actually going to be produced or not.
Not to mention all their work for DC Universe, of course. An awful lot of their product can be found throughout my apartment.
Additionally, the Four Horsemen have produced some toy lines of their own, most notably -- and certainly prominently featured on their Web Site -- a line called "Outer Space Men", which is a reworking of a 1960's line of "bendie" action figures produced by Colorforms, which was seen as a sort of unofficial accompaniment to a popular Mattel line of the time, Major Matt Mason.
Now, there can be no question that the Four Horsemen are expert toy designers, and for years now, between Masters and DC, have shown a distinct capability for taking established designs, either off the comics page or from previous toy lines, and either giving them a significant stylistic overhaul, as they did with the 2002-era Masters line, or bring to plastic life the finest straightforward designs of these popular characters imaginable.
And yet, it does need to be said, that they're working with existing characters. The Four Horsemen didn't invent He-Man, or Skeletor, or Superman, or Batman. They just created the finest action figure versions of them that have ever been molded from plastic. But they still had to match an existing design.
So what happens when that particular requirement isn't in place? What happens when the Four Horsemen get the chance to create an all-new Masters of the Universe character, essentially from scratch?
I'll tell you what happens -- the Four Horsemen come up with a character called DRAEGO-MAN, and the fans and collectors spend some time picking their jaws up off the floor and counting the days until Draego-Man goes on sale and arrives at their home, that's what happens.
So, how's the toy? Well -- Holy Ohio. I'm sorry, but "Holy Toledo" just isn't sufficient. I need to use the whole state, not just a city. This is what happens when the Four Horsemen are basically turned loose with no restrictions on previous character likenesses? This sort of thing needs to happen more often!
Now let's consider for a moment the wide range of humanoid-type life forms that Eternia has. We've seen bee-men, crab-men, spider-men, skunk-men, and some whose related species are a little harder to determine, such as Mer-Man and Whiplash. But clearly, the development of sentient life on Eternia was far more diverse than it was on Earth. As such, it's something of a wonder to me that somebody didn't think of a dragon-man in the original line. Certainly there was a medieval touch to the concept, so it would've fit in rather well. And the original animated series did in fact have the occasional dragon in it, who's even referenced on Draego-Man's bio card. But there never was a dragon-man figure in the original line.
Then again, it might be just as well that there wasn't, because if there had been, the Four Horsemen doubtless would have been required to come up with a modern counterpart to that character, and I doubt very much that it would've looked anywhere near as cool as Draego-Man. Let's face it, some of those original Masters figures were more than a little goofy-looking.
Draego-Man is definitely not goofy-looking. He looks like an entirely plausible and very menacing dragon-man.
Dragons, of course, have been part of popular culture and literature ever since some twit in a tin suit decided it would be the height of noble bravery to venture out and slay one of the things. Beyond that, I'm not entirely sure where the legend of dragons may have started, but it seems to be an almost universal thing. And to a degree, there's certain pre-conceived notions as to what the average dragon would look like.
More often than not, they have a head that is somewhere between a lizard and an alligator, but generally looks more intelligent than either. They are certainly reptilian, tend to have rather long necks, somewhat lizard-like bodies, long tails, frequently have large, bat-like wings, and they have a tendency to breathe fire. They also tend to be large, like some of the bigger species of dinosaur large. Sort of makes me wonder if some poor sap in the middle ages came across some fossilized dinosaur footprints and, lacking anything even remotely resembling paleontology at the time, made up the rest and came closer than he knew.
Draego-Man, as a dragon man, definitely maintains many of the typical characteristics of a dragon, just in a more compact, humanoid form. His head is pure dragon. There's nothing human here whatsoever, and the sculpt really shows off what the Horsemen can do when they're unencumbered by pre-existing likenesses. Draego-Man has red, scaly, reptilian skin, a long snout, a mouth that looks like it would give those alligator hunters on "Swamp People" a bad moment, piercing yellow eyes, a ridged brow that extends up and back to become two long, black horns on his head, a series of frilled scales at the back of his jaw on either side, and a third scaly, almost horned ridge on the back of his head.
Draego-Man is wearing distinctive armor on his torso, which also serves to extend his neck just a bit, but he's not especially long-necked. The armor has a high, metallic blue collar, and is mostly dark purple in color, and is heavily ridged. In the center is a red dragon head emblem, set against two crossed bones.
Draego-Man's arms and legs are mostly borrowed from King Hssss, but I can hardly blame Mattel for wanting to get a second use out of these distinctive and highly ridged limbs, and they work just as effectively for Draego-Man. The figure, however, does have entirely distinctive hands, which are heavily scaled, and each has two rather narrow fingers and a thumb, each with a black, clawed nail.
Draego-Man has purple wrist cuffs and booth, which have the same metallic blue trim as his collar. The boots end in three-toed feet, and are also ridged. He has a black furry loincloth, somewhat longer than average, with a metallic blue belt and red oval in the center. Speaking as a longtime graphic artist, the figure's overall color scheme works amazingly well, and is not only unique but highly distinctive.
Then there's the wings and the tail! You didn't think I would leave those out, did you? Although Draego-Man's back is distinctive, from the tail attachment joint on down, the tail is borrowed from Whiplash. Once again, this is a piece that has only seen one previous use, and it certainly works well here. I don't have a problem with the reuse of parts.
The wings, however, are entirely new, and showcase the amazing design and sculpting abilities of the Four Horsemen as well as the head does. The wings, which attach to two sockets on the back, and have a good range of motion, are immense, essentially as tall as the figure, and even in their partially folded pose, give Draego-Man a wingspan of nearly eight inches.
The wings are red on the back, and mostly orange on the front. This bright orange color can also be found on the underside of Draego-Man's jaw and the front of his neck, as well as the underside of his tail. The wings are heavily scaled on the back, and intricately creased on the front. At the upper tip of each is a small black claw. Really amazing work here.
The interesting thing about the head, especially the long, glossy black horns, and the wings, is that it makes Draego-Man look both taller and substantially larger than most Masters of the Universe Classics figures. Technically -- he's not. He uses previously established body parts. But the shape of the head, which does add a little height to him, and the sheer size of the wings makes him look bigger, and taller, than most. It's an interesting effect, and certainly appropriate to the character.
Draego-Man is one of the bad guys, and he definitely looks it. I tend to be of the opinion that it would've been tricky business to even try to turn him out in the original line. Apart from the size and sheer detail, he looks so mean that I don't think he could've been produced all that readily for a "kids toy" in the 1980's.
Of course, the figure is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.
Draego-Man comes with a single accessory, a flaming sword, that is just as amazingly detailed a piece of work as the figure. The sword has a purple hilt, with this extended length of yellow and orange flame shooting out from it. Think of a cross between a lightsaber and a flamethrower and you've pretty well got the idea.
Draego-Man's scroll-like bio card on the back of his package reads as follows:
DRAEGO-MAN - Evil Fire-Breathing Menace
During the Great Wars, the Dragons of Darksmoke fought in many epic battles against King Grayskull and the Snake-Men. A magical half human/half dragon creation of the Great Black Wizard, Draego-Man was shunned by Granamyr and allied himself instead with the Free People of Eternia. After the Truce of the Three Towers, Draego-Man became so disgusted with the humans that he isolated himself from all civilization, living as an outcast in the Caverns of Rakash. After several millennia of bitter retreat, Draego-Man discovered Skeletor's plans to enslave his dragon kin and use them as weapons against the Royal Palace. He returned from hiding to join Skeletor's Evil Warriors seeking revenge against all who betrayed him. Draego-Man uses his flame breath and ability to manipulate fire to battle for the side of evil!
There's another reason he was probably never made as a toy in the 80's. I don't even want to think about what his action feature might have been... "Now, Jimmy, don't aim that at the cat again...!" The only surprising thing about the bio card is that it doesn't mention any flying ability, but with wings like these, I can't imagine that Draego-Man can't fly!
Interesting backstory, as well. Granamyr is one of the dragons from the animated series, and the "Three Towers" is a reference to the "Eternia" playset, and has been mentioned more than once in recent times. As for the rest of it -- wow, bitter much? I mean, I get disgusted with people from time to time myself, but most of the caves around here are full of spiders and snakes, and I don't think I'd be inclined to hang around in one sulking for several millennia. I have no idea who this "Great Black Wizard" is supposed to be.
Any complaints? None whatsoever. This figure is incredibly well-designed, well-detailed, well-painted, and somewhat amazingly to me, even stands up on his own two feet despite being rather back-heavy with the wings and tail!
So, what's my final word? Hey, I've been enjoying the Masters of the Universe Classics line ever since its inception, and I have never had anything but kind words, respect, and praise for the skills and craftmanship of the Four Horsemen. But with Draego-Man, they had the freedom to kick it up a notch, and as such, pretty well kicked it clean out of the stadium.
If you've even thought for a moment that, "Well, he's not an established character, I don't really think I need him" -- forget it. If you're collecting the Masters of the Universe Classics line to any degree whatsoever, then you want Draego-Man. This figure is an absolute masterpiece from head to toe, front to wings, and you will be truly pleased to have him in your collection.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS 30th Anniversary figure of DRAEGO-MAN most definitely has my very highest recommendation!