REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS CASTLE GRAYSKULLMAN (Contest Winner)
As part of the celebration of the 30th Anniversary of Masters of the Universe, Mattel not only produced a special series of figures, created by a number of notable individuals, but they launched an all-new "Create-a-Character Contest". The winning entry would be produced as the final figure in the 30th Anniversary group of figures.
It made sense. After all, the first entry in the 30th Anniversary group of figures was the winner of the original Create-a-Character Contest from the original line. Back in the 1980's, Mattel held this contest, and the winning entry was a character named Fearless Photog, a rather interesting individual with a camera for a head.
Alas, the Masters of the Universe line was canceled before the figure could be produced. But he has now made it into the Classics line. Hey, better late than never. At least the winning entry for this new contest didn't have to wait 25 years to see the light of day.
I'll admit, I entered the new contest. There weren't any age limitations, and I had what I thought was a reasonably cool idea. I came up with this character I called "Mud Man". I envisioned him as an evil counterpart to Moss Man, a long-established good guy who was known for having flocked green fur, and a certain affinity for and control over plant life. Moss Man has made it into the Classics line, once Mattel figured out how to get the flocking onto a figure that was a heck of a lot more articulated than the original.
Mud Man didn't have flocking. According to the backstory that I came up with, Mud Man originated from a desolate, lifeless swamp region of Eternia, and he had the ability to transform any patch of land in his immediate vicinity into a quagmire of quicksand-like mud. He was fairly effective at stopping attacks against his person, since he could just transform the ground around him and both people and vehicles would get stuck.
I thought he could be molded in multi-colored plastic, sort of a molded-in camouflage pattern, like was done with the uniforms of a number of G.I. Joe figures back in the 1990's, the Mega-Marines being the most prominent examples of this, although the practice turned up occasionally all the way into the 2000's. I thought Mud Man could take good advantage of this technique with several shades of green and brown plastic. It wasn't something that had ever been done with a Masters figure before, so I thought it would look cool and certainly distinctive.
I -- didn't win. Mud Man didn't even make it into the runners-up, which were professionally illustrated and shown off at a couple of conventions by Mattel in the latter half of the year.
But, hey, no hard feelings. Some of those runners-up were pretty impressive. I would hope they're still under consideration for future production and release.
The winner was certainly not an idea I would have thought of, but it certainly fits within the concept of Masters of the Universe, as well as the current "Second Ultimate Battleground" storyline. The character, created by an individual named Daniel Benedict, is called -- CASTLE GRAYSKULLMAN!
I certainly didn't see anything like that coming. He is described as the "Heroic Embodiment of Castle Grayskull." A character based on easily the best-known building in the Masters of the Universe concept. I don't blame Mattel one bit for choosing this guy.
Since this is a new character, I can't really report on much of a backstory for him other than what is reported on the character's bio card. Castle Grayskull itself, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. The building has an extensive, if rather varied history. No great surprise here, given the occasionally conflicting continuity between the mini-comics and the two main animated series from the 1980's and the 2002-era series.
So let's consider the history of Castle Grayskull, and then have a look at Castle Grayskullman.
According to a Masters of the Universe "Read-Along Book" published in 1983, titled "Castle Grayskull", The origin of Castle Grayskull was related as once being the beautiful "Hall of Wisdom," the "center of Eternian culture and a storehouse of all knowledge of the universe." The Hall was the meeting place of the Council of Elders. One day, the elders saw a vision of a beautiful woman dressed in snake armor (a description which matches early versions of both Teela and the Sorceress) who warned of future danger and also the coming of He-Man.
The elders concentrated all of their power into a magical orb. The elders then magically transformed the Hall of Wisdom into Castle Grayskull in order to frighten away intruders and protect the orb. This was to have all taken place several centuries before the coming of He-Man. The Castle was then largely forgotten until Man-At-Arms eventually led Prince Adam to Castle Grayskull, where Prince Adam became He-Man using the Sword of Power.
In the original Filmation television series, Castle Grayskull is a legendary/mythical location situated in a barren wilderness. It serves as home to The Sorceress and to the mysterious and rarely-seen Spirit of Grayskull, as well as a place of refuge for He-Man and all those considered his friends. Its origins are unknown except for the fact that it was constructed to protect an unspecified source of power from those who would misuse it. It is a frequent target for the forces of evil.
Although it is mostly viewed from the outside, there are a few notable internal locations: the Throne Room; the Hall of He-Man; the Travel Corridor Chamber; a laboratory; a room used by the Sorceress for studying and practicing spells; and, the Sorceress' bedroom. In the episode "Double Trouble", an evil doppelganger of He-Man's friend Koldar also comes across the chamber that houses the Secrets of Castle Grayskull. It is a room with two doors, between which sits the Guardian, one of which houses the secrets, the other one is only destruction.
The castle is surrounded by a bottomless abyss, which doubles as a moat in at least one episode, and a Jawbridge (a drawbridge formed by the lower jaw of the castle's "mouth") is used to come across it. When Prince Adam transforms into He-Man, sparks shoot up from the abyss towards He-Man's sword. This phenomenon is seen in the episode "Into the Abyss", when Teela falls into the abyss and witnesses this spectacle from a unique vantage point. In the same episode, He-Man states that the abyss actually leads to the center of Eternia.
There are a number of magical doors inside the castle, most of them in the Travel Corridor Chamber, that serve as portals to various locations on Eternia, including Snake Mountain, and at least one that leads to Etheria.
The castle's purpose and history are significantly expanded upon in the 2002 series, as are the variety of locations shown in the castle. The most significant of the expansions made is the addition of a large Crystal Chamber, accessible only by a secret "door" in the floor of a secluded chamber. Within this chamber is the Orb of Power, within which lies the combined powers of the Elders. Prior to its bestowal upon Prince Adam, the Sword of Power was also stored in the depths of the Crystal Chamber.
Other locations within the castle include the Throne Room (trophy room); a massive library (blue room); a room that houses an enormous, mystical mirror used to view both the past and present; an underground colosseum; a secret chamber devoted to King Grayskull; the area behind the eyesockets of the castle's facade; and, numerous corridors that are draped in illusions to confound invaders.
Once made of white marble, and at the center of King Grayskull's bustling kingdom, the castle fell into a state of disrepair following a devastating battle with the forces of Hordak. Over countless years, the castle was almost entirely forgotten by the populace. Its true purpose, and the secrets within, are now known to only a very select few. Like the Filmation version, it is surrounded by a seemingly bottomless abyss, and is backed by a sheer cliff. This abyss was revealed to have been created during the final confrontation between King Grayskull and Hordak.
In this series, it is revealed that Castle Grayskull was once home to King Grayskull, an ancestor of Prince Adam, who died defending his kingdom and Eternia as a whole from Hordak.
Upon his death, King Grayskull transferred his power into his sword that now forms the basis of He-Man's power. His wife Veena became the first Sorceress, and his advisers became the Council of Elders.
And, just to throw in all known references, in the 1987 live action movie, Castle Grayskull is finally captured by Skeletor's forces. The first image of it seen is of its interior as Skeletor, victorious at last, makes the long march across the castle's Throne Room. The throne resides in the rear section of the room just beyond the section's seemingly incomplete marble foundation which rests atop pillars and framework that extend from a deep abyss. This foundation is formed in such a way that there are four large holes of sizes that altogether occupy most of the floor's area leaving a few wide catwalk walkways. The large rear section of the room is lined with several tall statues of elders along each side whereas the much thinner, less tall, anterior section of the room is an open hallway lined with columns along each side. Near the throne, Skeletor has trapped the Sorceress within an energy field, which, little by little, transfers her power to him. The castle serves as Skeletor's main base of operations throughout the movie. According to the film, it houses a giant circular portal called "the Great Eye of the Galaxy", which only opens when Eternia's moon reaches its zenith, granting whoever stands before it god-like power. It is never explicitly stated, though visuals strongly indicate, that for this to happen the Sword of Grayskull must be inserted into a small column near the portal. The opening narration implies that Castle Grayskull itself is at the center of the universe.
Interestingly, Castle Grayskull even makes regular cameo appearances in the She-Ra animated series, even though that series takes place on Etheria, not Eternia. Castle Grayskull appears at the beginning of the transformation sequences of She-Ra, whenever Adora holds up her sword and proclaims "For the honor of Grayskull", in order to transform into She-Ra; near the end of the process The Crystal Castle of Etheria appears in its place.
Honestly, the phrase, "By the power of Grayskull", which is the words Prince Adam speaks in order to transform into He-Man, have turned up in the least expected places. My personal favorite was in the live-action Green Lantern movie, when Hal Jordan was trying to figure out the oath to recharge his power ring. One of his attempts was "By the power of Grayskull!" Admittedly, another one was "To Infinity and Beyond!", so ol' Hal was pretty much grasping at straws there for a while.
Castle Grayskull itself was a very popular playset in the original 1980's toy line, and it was also produced for the 2002-era line. As of this writing, it is being considered as the first playset item for the Classics line, but by Mattel's own admission, it would not be inexpensive to produce, and they will need to receive enough pre-orders for it to proceed with actual production.
In the meantime, at least, we can enjoy the company of the "living embodiment" of Castle Grayskull, with Castle Grayskullman.
So -- how's the figure? Very impressive -- if a bit on the weird side. I mean, you've basically got the humanoid version of a building here. Credit to Daniel Benedict for figuring out a way to make this work.
It helps that Castle Grayskull itself has a face. I can't really see trying to come up with a living embodiment of -- oh, let's say the Cinderella Castle in the center of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Although if someone did, it probably would've run off and hid from embarrassment at being painted bright neon magenta for the park's 25th Anniversary some years back. But that castle doesn't really have a face. Most castles don't. There isn't a lot to work with there to try to imagine a humanoid counterpart.
Castle Grayskull has a face. The front of the castle is shaped to look like an immense skull. I have to admit, this, along with the bottomless abyss of a moat, is likely a lot more effective than just hanging out a "No Solicitors" sign.
Obviously, that face is the basis for Castle Grayskullman's head. The result is interesting. One certainly wouldn't have expected a good guy to come along who has a skull for a face that's even scarier-looking than Skeletor. But that's what we have here -- a skull-like face, with these odd white fangs protruding from both top and bottom near the sides of the jaw, deepset black orifices for eyes, and a sort of rocky texture to the head, and something like a parapet for a small crown.
Castle Grayskullman isn't a particularly colorful character, nor would one really expect him to be. Castle Grayskull has generally been portrated as being a sort of dark blue-green gray in color, and that's definitely Castle Grayskullman's color, as well. He's pretty much this very dark, blue-green gray from top to bottom.
There are a few exceptions, however. Most notable is this long, straggly, sort of sickly-colored light green hair on Castle Grayskullman's head. Where in the world did this come from? Since when do castles have hair?
Admittedly, although Castle Grayskullman's character profile goes into a decent backstory, it doesn't explain this. And I can't read the mind of Daniel Benedict to know what he had intended here. But it occurs to me that while castles don't have hair, they do frequently have growing vines on their exteriors. I've seen some buildings that let the plantlife get so out of hand that you'd think the building itself was made out of the vines, and you almost need a hedge trimmer to find the door.
So, if an explanation is needed here, perhaps this is some sort of representation of the vines that might have been growing on the outside of Castle Grayskull. Although if this is the case, given their rather sickly green color, I think Castle Grayskullman's head needs watering...
Castle Grayskullman is wearing a thick armored vest, as any number of Masters figures do. This one, specially crafter for the figure, has a brick-like, rocky appearance to it, with a gray shield in the center, which represents the crest of Castle Grayskull itself. It's basically a winged skull.
Castle Grayskullman has a dark, gold-colored belt, and is wearing a standard-type loincloth. Maybe I should be less concerned about where Castle Grayskullman got his hair, and wonder where in the world the fur for the loincloth came from.
Castle Grayskullman has somewhat rocky-looking shoulders. These are previously established parts that I have seen on several previous figures, such as Clawful and Whiplash, which are used when a rough or scaly skin texture is called for. The rest of Castle Grayskullman's arms, as well as his legs, are standard parts, as is his torso underneath the rocky vest.
Then we come to gloves and boots. Now, I couldn't readily locate my original entry form for this contest. But I do seem to recall that the rules stipulated that one's character entry had to be able to use existing parts, with the exception of a new head, of course, and a new armored vest. Castle Grayskullman has these. The contest entry didn't say a thing about new lower arms and boots. Any new part requires design, sculpting, and a new mold, and that gets expensive. I can understand Mattel wanting to keep expenses down.
And yet, Castle Grayskullman has new lower arms, hands, and boots. This required the creation of eight new parts -- two lower arms, two hands, two boot tops, and two feet. So it rather looks as though Mattel fudged its own rules a bit. They must have really been impressed with this character in order to do that.
In fairness, though, I don't really blame them. It's a cool concept, and the rocky texture of the gloves and boots does do a nice job of matching the rocky texture of the vest and head, and succeeds in bringing the entire figure together most impressively, from a design standpoint.
Not surprisingly, Castle Grayskullman's rather limited color palette makes him look a bit like a statue, albeit a statue wearing a gold belt and a funky green wig. He has some black detail "washed" on him, mostly in the cracks and crevasses of his brick-work. While I normally dislike this sort of detailing, on this guy, it works.
However, the character is not as colorless as one might think. He comes with two swords, identical in shape but different in color. They look like more ornate versions of the sword He-Man uses. As to where they might come from -- hey, any castle is going to have a decent armory. One of the swords has a metallic purple handle, with a non-metallic purple blade. The other sword has a metallic dark blue handle, with a metallic turquoise blade. Interesting color choices.
Castle Grayskullman also comes with a fairly large shield. It is somewhat similar in appearance to the shield on his chest, in that it is dark gray in color, and has a winged skull in its center, along with three copper discs. Frankly, it's one of the more impressive and actually authentic-looking shields I've seen in the Masters line to date.
Of course, Castle Grayskullman is superbly articulated. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.
As to his backstory, read on:
During the Second Ultimate Battleground, Hordak and King Hssss' grand army pressed in against the allied heroes of Eternia. In the darkest moment of battle, all hope seemed lost as many heroes fell, including Snake Man-At-Arms and Stratos. Reaching out through the Orb of Power, hidden deep inside Castle Grayskull, He-Man and the new Sorceress used an unrepeatable spell to call upon the Power of Grayskull and infuse life into the very spirit of the castle itself. Rising from the castle's hidden Chamber of Defense; Castle Grayskullman marched into battle, swinging his dual swords of power, helping to turn the tide.
That must have been an interesting surprise to Hordak and King Hssss.
So, what's my final word? Well, first of all, my congratulations to Daniel Benedict for winning the Create-A-Character Contest. He certainly came up with an interesting and imaginative entry that works well within the Masters universe and makes remarkable use of its best-known landmark.
The figure is certainly impressive. A trifle odd, perhaps, but impressive. He's certainly well-made, and from an overall design standpoint, certainly well reflects the building upon which he is based. I am convinced that any knowledgeable Masters of the Universe fan will gladly welcome this interesting new character into their collection.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS CREATE-A-CHARACTER CONTEST winner -- CASTLE GRAYSKULLMAN -- definitely has my highest recommendation!