REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS FIGHTING FOE MEN
Sometimes, you just never quite know where the latest Masters of the Universe characters are going to come from. After all, Mattel has secured the rights to basically every incarnation of the Masters from which to produce interesting additions to their Masters of the Universe Classics line, and ultimately, everybody's welcome. Characters from the original Masters line, She-Ra: Princess of Power, the New Adventures concept, even the Filmation animated series.
That said, Mattel hasn't really been in the habit of just making up new characters, with the exception of those that were part of 2012's special 30th Anniversary Collection. Apart from that, the characters used in the Masters of the Universe Classics line will have at least some modicum of established history somewhere in the Masters universe.
So when I first saw this three-pack, called the "Fighting Foe Men", featuring two men and a woman, a rather disparate-looking group, I thought, "And who are these people?" The last three pack of Masters figures featured the Star Sisters, previously unreleased characters from the She-Ra concept. Although certainly individuals, they had a slightly more unified look to them. These Fighting Foe Men didn't, and I couldn't quite place them.
And yet -- I almost thought they sort of looked familiar. A couple of neurons on the hard drive of my brain were firing, saying, "You have seen these characters before." But the specifics weren't there.
I am a capable writer and toy collector with a reasonable level of knowledge about a number of action figure concepts. My primary specialty is G.I. Joe. I have a good knowledge of some other concepts, to varying degrees, including super-heroes, Masters of the Universe, Transformers, WWE, and Star Wars. Anything I come up short on, I either look up or ask around. One of the distinct advantages of the Internet is that if you don't know something, there's a good chance you can find someone somewhere who does. And I know people and at least one Web Site that know Masters better than I do.
So let us set our time machines back to the glory days of the early 1980's, when the action figure sections of toy and department stores really amounted to something, when Star Wars dominated, when Masters and G.I. Joe were establishing their positions, and a certain group of transforming robots were still on the way from Cybertron.
The type of media opportunities that exist today weren't all quite there back then. Take the average super-hero, or super-hero group, like the Avengers. I can walk into Walmart, and find Avengers action figures, DVDs, beach towels, T-shirts, underwear, posters, greeting cards, video games, sneakers, and that's without even trying. Never mind their long-established comic book presence, and doubtless a considerable presence online.
That wasn't really the case in the early 1980's. Video games were still in their infancy. Home computers were a distinct rarity, no one had a cell phone, a Web Site was something you swept out of a corner of the ceiling after you got rid of the spider that put it there, and the licensing machine that exists today wasn't really around to put toy-based characters on all the rest of that stuff. Star Wars got away with it, but not a lot of others. G.I. Joe got by with a comic book (and an excellent one) and a cartoon. Masters of the Universe had the cartoon -- and really, it paved the way for first-run syndicated cartoons like G.I. Joe and Transformers, but didn't have much else.
Somebody at Mattel had the idea to use their model kit division -- Monogram -- to turn out model kits of some of the vehicles that had already been established in the Masters of the Universe line! There would be some alterations. I know that at least one open-cockpit vehicle got a roof. But there were Masters of the Universe vehicular model kits.
Interestingly enough, G.I. Joe did the same thing. Several of their early vehicles were also issued as model kits. I think it's a little odd that you really don't hear that much about them these days. I have no idea how popular they might have been, then or now, or how scarce and valuable they might have become. Presumably, for both Masters and G.I. Joe, the model kits were scaled to the figures.
It seems like an odd thing to do, in some respects. A model kit of a toy vehicle? Why not just buy the toy? And certainly, the toy vehicles themselves, at least for G.I. Joe, required their own level of assembly. I assume the Masters vehicles did, as well, but I'll be honest here, while I enjoyed the Masters animated series and had a handful of figures, my personal emphasis was not on the Masters toy line at the time. And yet, the model kits served as a means of cross-promotion. Being stocked in the model kit departments of most toy stores, they offered a little something called "brand awareness". If someone bought a G.I. Joe or Masters model kit, they might later look up the toy line. I'm sure that was the hope.
And once I was reminded of the Masters model kits, I remembered where I had seen the Fearsome Foe Men before. They were used as the drivers of the model kit vehicles on the package designs. Precisely why established Masters characters such as, for example, He-Man, or Skeletor, or whomever, were not used, I really don't know. But they weren't. Instead, these rather unusual, unnamed, and until now, never-appeared anywhere else characters were portrayed.
I remembered that it definitely made me curious at the time. I despise mysteries, and here was a mystery. Who WERE these people? I knew enough about the toy line and the animated series to know that these characters had never turned up. It just didn't make a lot of sense to me at the time.
Well, finally, some thirty years later, these anonymous characters have been given modern identities, and their own action figures in the Masters of the Universe Classics action figure line, as the three-pack known as the FIGHTING FOE MEN.
If that name sounds just a little odd -- don't laugh. According to the details I have been provided with, that was very nearly the name of the entire line. Fighting Foe Men. Now, try to picture, if you can, the opening credits of the animated series, with that distinct logo coming towards the screen, and that echoing, heroic voice proclaiming, "He-Man -- and the Fighting Foe Men!"
Just doesn't quite have the same impressiveness, does it? I mean, "Masters of the Universe" might sound a tad egotistical or even presumptuous to some, but there's no denying the impressiveness of it. Certainly over "Fighting Foe Men". But, as a name for a specific group of individuals within the Masters of the Universe concept -- sure, why not? And if you know the history of the name, then there's a nice little added factor there. It becomes more than just a name.
So, who are these characters? Needless to say, their backstories had to be written from the ground up. All they'd ever been were a handful of anonymous characters that happened to make their way onto the box art of some model kit vehicles as their respective drivers. No names, no history, no nothing.
Their individual names, according to their package, are SHIELD MAIDEN SHERRILYN, DITZTROYER, and DAWG-O-TOR. And if those names sound a little odd, trust me, there's an explanation.
I usually reserve the backstory information for later in my reviews, but I believe in this instance, it's appropriate to present the details presented on the package now.
FIGHTING FOE MEN
After the Great Wars ended and Eternia was left without a king, a group of renegade pirates known as the Fighting Foe Men took over the Valley of Gnarl and all of the surrounding territories. Spreading fear throughout the land, they built great war machines like the Roton and Talon Fighter to terrorize the populace. Challenged and eventually defeated by a champion from the north, the Fighting Foe Men were cast into a glacier and magically frozen for over five thousand years. Eventually, they were discovered by Hordak, who returned to Eternia, and set them free in return for serving in his army during the Second Ultimate Battleground.
There's a couple of interesting observations to make here. First of all, please notice the specific reference to vehicles like the Roton and Talon Fighter. This is a nice little connection to the model kits. That "champion from the north", shown on the back of the box under the "Collect them all" section, is Vikor, described as the "He-Man of the North". In point of fact, the Vikor character is based on an early version of He-Man, before he was developed into the character we more readily recognize. So there's an interesting additional bit of history to throw in. And the fact that these Fighting Foe Men were obviously part of some long ago episode in Eternian's history, and frozen in a glacier, would explain why they weren't part of any modern adventures. And in theory, those box art illustrations for the model kits didn't necessarily have to represent Eternia's present day.
As to their individual names, each one is named after an actual person who works for the Four Horsemen Studios, the designers and sculptors of the Masters of the Universe Classics and DC Universe lines for Mattel.
Now, let's consider the figures individually.
SHIELD MAIDEN SHERRILYN - Named for Sherri Lynn Cook. Since the bio card for the Fighting Foe Men treats them as a group, and doesn't give any individual backgrounds, we'll have to speculate a bit here.
As with most boys' toys line, the original Masters of the Universe concept was rather short on females. There were three prominent females in the series -- Teela, Evil-Lyn, and the Sorceress. Two of these were among the heroes -- Teela and Sorceress -- while Evil-Lyn pretty well stood as the lone female in Skeletor's camp. Had anything been done with these Fighting Foe Men at the time, Sherrilyn would have been an interesting addition to the bad guys. I doubt she would have been much of a threat to Evil-Lyn, since she seems to be much more of a "warrior woman" than a magic-wielding type, but she probably could have given Teela a few good scraps.
The Masters of the Universe Classics line has been more open to females, mostly by incorporating the characters from She-Ra: Princess of Power into its lineup. The Princess of Power concept itself is something of an anomaly in the toy world. It was, essentially, an action figure line for girls, stocked in the same aisle as Barbie. The figures tended to look more doll-like, and had real rooted hair, and along with their weapons, came with accessories like combs for girls to brush the doll's hair with.
Needless to say, it wasn't all that compatible with the Masters of the Universe line, but it was developed by Mattel in response to the revelation that girls were playing with their brothers' Masters of the Universe toys almost as much as the boys were. Still, I believe what really allowed the Princess of Power line to succeed as well as it did was the animated series.
The She-Ra: Princess of Power animated series was far more visually compatible with Masters of the Universe than the toys were. Additionally, since the Princess of Power toy line lacked any truly evil villains -- the most notable, Catra, was simply described as a "Jealous Beauty", the characters from the Evil Horde, led by Hordak, from the Masters of the Universe line, were reassigned as the primary villains for She-Ra, whose adventures took place on the planet Etheria, although occasional crossovers with He-Man took place. What really cemented it was that the Masters of the Universe animated series completed its run, while She-Ra was still producing more episodes. This allowed for a sort of reversal of the original intention of the concept -- boys started to pay attention to the She-Ra animated series.
With the advent of the Masters of the Universe Classics line, one of the first questions that the fans were asking was -- would She-Ra be a part of it? The 2002 Masters of the Universe line had eventually brought She-Ra in -- as a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive, but it hadn't really gone further than that. The Classics line has brought in quite a few characters from the She-Ra concept, including its most prominent male character, Bow. But it should be noted that the female population percentage in the Masters of the Universe Classics line is a lot higher than the typical "boys toys" action figure line.
But Sherrilyn doesn't really fit the She-Ra mold, nor is there any real reason she should. Although the Masters of the Universe Classics line is entirely compatible with itself regardless of the original source of the characters brought into it -- and the Four Horsemen have gone out of their way to make the She-Ra based characters closely resemble their animated counterparts more than their original toys -- there's still a certain -- "look" about the characters from the Princess of Power concept that Sherrilyn doesn't really have. Had she ever been brought into this world beyond a model kit package illustration, I'm pretty well convinced it would've been in the original Masters line.
For the most part, Sherrilyn looks like a normal, Caucasian woman. There's nothing all that unusual about her skin color or physical build. Her face is largely a mystery, as she's wearing a non-removable helmet with an opaque gold visor that conceals her eyes. Must've gotten it at a yard sale for Halo leftovers. The helmet is a dark metallic pewter in color, and loaded with techno-type detailing. Even around the visor are these little ridges and gadgets. At first I thought it might have been a sloppy paint job, but it isn't. It's just some of these little gadgets protruding into the gold area of the visor. As such, the paint job is actually surprisingly precise.
Sherrilyn's lower face is fairly straightforward, with a slight hint of a smile. Her mouth has been painted with red lipstick, and a slight hint of white teeth are visible. The only other indication we have as to what she might look like is a very dark brown ponytail descending from the helmet in the back.
The head is just a little loose on the neck, but that might just be the case for this figure that I have received. It doesn't seem inclined to break or fall off, at least.
The body used to make Sherrilyn seems to be the same one that was used a while back to make the slightly underdressed Battleground Teela. That figure, based on an early interpretation of Teela, was wearing a loincloth, a slightly armored chestplate, boots, and not much else, and required a distinctive set of molds to allow for the bare midriff.
This is something that Sherrilyn also has, although the color scheme is somewhat different. Her loincloth and boots are brown, but the belt around her waist is red, with a gold buckle, and the straps around her boots are dark green. Her armored chestplate is entirely distinctive to her, and is also mostly red, with gold shoulder details, and a centerpiece that looks like a blue metallic bird with its wings spread, intersected by two yellow lightning bolts. Almost has a sort of Wonder Woman vibe to it.
Sherrilyn has red armbands, and distinctive red wristbands that I believe are unique to this figure, which means that Mattel had to craft specific lower arms for her. The wristbands have a sort of jeweled star pattern on them, unlike anything I've seen before, mostly metallic blue, with the center jewel having a gold outline. As always, the detail work is extremely impressive.
Obviously, she's called Shield Maiden Sherrilyn for a reason. Her primary accessory is a long, oval shaped shield, very ornate, a sort of translucent white with orange gear-like symbols, with a black outline with metallic blue details, that almost look like treads. It took me a while to figure out that the shield is designed to look like the tread mechanism for one of the vehicles. She also comes with a handheld blaster with two barrels.
I suspect that most of the accessories that come with these figures can be associated with one vehicle or another. Unfortunately, I'm not enough of a Masters vehicle expert to be certain where they all come from.
Now, let's consider DITZTROYER. Definitely an odd-sounding name. He's named for Shane Dittsworth of the Four Horsemen. This one's just a bit of a stretch.
Again, we sort of have to speculate on his individual history. Most notable, Ditztroyer has light blue skin. On Eternia, this is generally representative of a race of otherwise human-like beings known as the Gar. Other notable members of this race include Keldor, better known to us as Skeletor, and the heroic Sy-Klone.
For whatever reason, the Gar are a somewhat oppressed minority on Eternia. This has tended to make little sense to me, given the sheer number of sentient species, most of them humanoid to one degree or another, found on Eternia. You have bird-men like Stratos, bee-men like Buzz-Off, aquatic beings such as Mer-Man, and more. These are not individual, unique characters as far as Eternian populations are concerned. They and others are simply the most prominent representatives of their respective races. And while there might be some slight friction from time to time, not necessarily resultant from the actions of the individual characters, there doesn't seem to be any specific discrimination.
But the Gar, for whatever reason, are heavily disliked. In the mini-comic, "The Secret Origin of Skeletor", it was revealed that the two sons of King Miro -- Randor and Keldor -- were once close, and readily fought side by side against various threats to Miro's kingdom.
When Miro fell in battle, the crown should have gone to Keldor. However, the populace refused to accept a Gar king, claiming that they would not follow a "blue skin", and that the history of the Gar race was one of murderers and thieves, and that none of them could be trusted. Although Randor pleaded for the people to accept Keldor, even asking his mother to bring him out to face the crowd and demonstrate his nobility, they refused. A seeming accident placed the blame for the Queen Mother's death on Keldor, and he was forced into bitter exile. Was it an accident? Not even the comic specifies.
Regardless, the Gar race remains viewed with suspicion and hostility. Is Ditztroyer a Gar? He largely has the look of one, and it's certainly possible. I'm inclined to think that he is.
Ditztroyer wears a dark blue hood that covers much of his head, but his face is visible. His face is entirely human in appearance, light blue skin notwithstanding, and he has rather angular features. The most unusual aspects of his face are rather thick black eyebrows, and deepset black eyes that have no other features. There are no whites to his eyes, no colored irises. Just black. This is certainly not typical for members of the Gar race, who have normal-looking eyes, if Keldor and Sy-Klone are any indication. So what happened with Ditztroyer? Some sort of accident? A mutation? If he's driving vehicles, there's certainly no reason to think he's blind. Maybe they're contact lenses, to make him look creepier...
Ditztroyer is wearing a blue cape to go with his blue hood, and descending from the front on the chest is a large black emblem that -- is a little hard to describe. It's like a stylized animal head, but no animal I've ever seen on Earth. It has short pointed ears like a cat, huge, somewhat cat-like eyes in that the pupils are narrow slits, but no cat I know has red and yellow irises, and there's these angular black -- teeth jutting up from the bottom. This thing as much as anything is probably some made-up critter designed to make people nervous in the presence of whomever is wearing it. In that, I would think it would succeed.
Ditztroyer's torso is gold in color, but he's not wearing an armored chestplate. Much like other Masters figures whose torsos are given colors other than their skin color, this is doubtless supposed to represent some tight-fitting fabric. Ditztroyer has a metallic green belt, a brown loincloth, green gloves, gold shoes, and his lower legs are heavily armored in metallic green, using a set of molds that I've seen on several other figures. It looks good here, though.
Ditztroyer's two weapons include a long, narrow black staff with a symbol at the top that looks like it's half sun-symbol, half gear shape. It has a black circle with a green center, and red, mechanical-looking "teeth". Ditztroyer also has a large red blaster rifle, a nicely detailed and certainly menacing piece of work.
Finally, let's consider DAWG-O-TOR. He's named after Owen "O-Dawg" Oertling of the Four Horsemen. This name makes a little more sense, but I do wonder how Mr. Oertling got the nickname of "O-Dawg" in the first place.
Funny thing about Dawg-O-Tor. He simply doesn't look that much like a bad guy. Now, when these characters were painted for the model kit packages, I really don't know if allegiance was considered. Sherrilyn and Ditztroyer don't look especially heroic. But Dawg-O-Tor doesn't look particularly villainous.
Now, in fairness, when Mattel decided to do these figures, I doubt they could have done the set as one hero and two villains. That would've been a little overly-complicated. So they just made them all bad guys. So be it. But just for myself, I'm having a little trouble seeing Dawg-O-Tor as a bad guy. He just doesn't look like one that much. Maybe he could be reformed?
It's happened before in pop culture concepts. In G.I. Joe, Storm Shadow reformed enough in the pages of the comic book so that while his 1984 figure portrayed him as a Cobra ninja, his 1988 figure assigned him to the G.I. Joe team. I don't ever recall that happening before. Admittedly, subsequent to that, Storm Shadow bounced back and forth, the toy line mostly assigned him as a bad guy to keep one super-ninja on each side of the conflict (along with Snake-Eyes), the first live action movie clearly placed him as a Cobra, while the second one had him reluctantly helping the Joe Team, and Storm Shadow's allegiance these days depends very much on which comic book you're reading, which cartoon you're watching, or which toy you're buying. But still, he can't really be regarded entirely as a bad guy.
I personally doubt that the Fighting Foe Men will ever get enough media time for Dawg-O-Tor to make that choice, and who knows what his personality might be portrayed as? Still, from a strictly visual perspective, he just doesn't strike me as looking like a bad guy.
It's not even really the first time within the Masters concept. Tri-Klops was originally envisioned as a hero, but the line was a little short on villains. But if you look at Tri-Klops, setting that three-eyes headpiece aside, he's not as freakish or monstrous as most of the other Masters villains that were his contemporaries. He's relatively human-looking.
And maybe that's the key with Dawg-O-Tor. He's basically entirely human in appearance. He's wearing a metallic pewter helmet. That's not as techno-decorated as Sherrilyn's, but it does have these cool metallic gold wings sculpted to the sides. The helmet has a transparent yellow visor, which allows us to see Dawg-O-Tor's eyes beneath it. As one would expect, these details have been very neatly painted.
His lower face, which is visible, is entirely human, and has a rather serious expression on it. The features are well designed, and the mouth is a frown, but again, the expression doesn't strike me as especially evil.
Dawg-O-Tor has long brown hair, that hangs partway down his back below the helmet. There's a white streak in his hair, as well. I almost wondered if this was an accident. I couldn't quite imagine it being such, but I briefly wondered if someone had had a mishap with a bottle of White-Out. But no, the white streak is supposed to be there.
Dawg-O-Tor is dressed mostly in dark green. His torso and legs are dark green, but his arms are bare. He is wearing a metallic green armored chestplate and backplate, nicely detailed, with slightly flared metallic green shoulders. His wristbands are also pewter in color, and there is a bird-like symbol on his chest that is metallic blue, with gold details on the main body, and red wings.
Dawg-O-Tor's belt is metallic pewter, and his loincloth and boots are brown. Really, the overall design of the figure is excellent, and from a "basic Masters of the Universe" appearance, he probably fits in with the overall collection the best of all.
His accessories include a shield which is similar in some respect to his chestplate, as well as a large blue club-like weapon with some rather high-tech details on it.
There are three additional accessories, since the backstory references the fact that Hordak freed these three from their imprisonment and then used them as part of his army during the Second Ultimate Battleground. Each of the figures' distinctive chest emblems can be popped off, and each one has a red bat-like Horde emblem that can be put in their place.
Speaking for myself personally, I'm content to leave them with their unique symbols. I think they look cooler that way, and if Hordak is that hard up for manpower, he can go build some more of those robotic Horde Troopers he used in the cartoon. There's an army-builder figure I'd like to see at some point.
Obviously, all three figures are superbly articulated. They're fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.
So, what's my final word? These characters are pretty much the definition of "obscure". Then again, they legitimately appeared on Masters of the Universe products, and nothing was done with them at the time. I have a vague memory of seeing the model kits and thinking, "Cool, who's that?" and never seeing figures of them. Well, those figures now exist -- and it only took thirty years give-or-take to make it happen. And they're really excellent figures.
If you're a Masters of the Universe fan, especially with a good sense of the history of the concept, then you'll definitely want to bring the Fighting Foe Men into your Masters of the Universe Classics collection. You'll be very pleased you did. I know I am.
The FIGHTING FOE MEN, featuring SHIELD MAIDEN SHERRILYN, DITZTROYER, and DAWG-O-TOR, from the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS collection, definitely have my highest recommendation!