REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS GRIFFIN
When I received the GRIFFIN as part of my monthly Club Eternia subscription from MattyCollector.com, for my Masters of the Universe Classics figures, my first reaction, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, was, "What in the world is this thing and where did it come from?"
Certainly there had never been a toy of this before. I would've remembered it. Now, admittedly, I know some pop culture concepts better than others. I think most of us can say that. The pop culture concept that I know the best is G.I. Joe. I would consider myself very well informed on Transformers (especially Generation One and Beast Wars, not so much some of the more recent incarnations), and Masters of the Universe. But, it's not impossible for something to slip past me on these. And clearly, the Griffin had slipped past me.
In answer to the question, "Where did it come from," an online friend of mine who is better versed in Masters of the Universe than I am answered that question. The Griffin -- or Griffins, since the figure does represent an entire species, turned up in the 2002 animated series. This, upon reflection, didn't surprise me. This critter is just a little too strange, not to mention mean-looking, to have been part of the Filmation era.
As to what he specifically is, well, I'll leave that largely for the bio card to explain when I get around to it later in the review. One thing that the Griffin is, is the latest animal-based entry in the Masters of the Universe Classics line. As an online-based line, Mattel can craft these larger creatures and design decent-sized boxes for them without having to worry about whether or not they can persuade a retailer to carry them. This is a distinct advantage, and not only leads to interesting animals such as the Griffin, but figure multi-packs such as the Eternian Palace Guards or the Star Sisters.
The Griffin is the fifth animal in the Masters of the Universe Classics line, following Battle Cat, Panthor, the Shadow Beast, and Swiftwind. I'm honestly not sure whether to include Gygor, the massive golden-furred gorilla, on this list. I'm not entirely certain whether he qualifies as an animal, or a character, so to speak. Intelligence isn't necessarily a qualifier, either. Both Battle Cat and Swiftwind have shown the ability to speak intelligently, but no one would mistake either one as a humanoid.
Such, I suppose, are the life-forms on Eternia. No wonder the place is so mixed up. And in light of that, it's no great surprise to me that a world like Eternia could develop something like these Griffins, although in fairness, Griffins have a solid basis on Earth, if admittedly a mythological one. Let's briefly consider the history of Griffins on Earth, just for some background into the concept of what a griffin is, before we turn to the Eternian version.
The griffin, griffon, or gryphon is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. The griffin was also thought of as king of the creatures. Griffins are known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions. In antiquity it was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.
I think we should be very glad that nothing like a griffin ever actually existed. I mean, something as big as a lion, that could fly? One can imagine that the beak of the eagle's head would be a serious threat, as would its claws and talons, but anyone who's ever parked their car under a tree or too close to a telephone line will tell you that these are not the only unpleasantries produced by flying creatures. When you consider the mess something as small as a sparrow or a dove can cause, and then think about something this big flying around up there...!
Adrienne Mayor, a classical folklorist, proposes that the griffin was an ancient misconception derived from the fossilized remains of the Protoceratops found in gold mines in the Altai mountains of Scythia, in present day southeastern Kazakhstan, or in Mongolia. Yeah, not too many paleontologists in ancient times. Mayor speculates that the griffin's origins are based in ancient paleontologic observations brought by long-distance traders to Europe along the Silk Road from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, where fossils of Protoceratops and their nests and eggs are naturally exposed. Such fossils, seen by ancient observers, may have been interpreted as evidence of a half-bird-half-beast. Over repeated retelling and drawing recopying its bony neck frill may become large mammal-type external ears, and its beak may be treated as evidence of part-bird nature and lead to bird-type wings being added.
While griffins are most common in the art and lore of Ancient Greece, there is evidence of representations of griffins in ancient Egyptian art as far back as 3,300 BC.
Most statues have bird-like talons, although in some older illustrations griffins have a lion's forelimbs; they generally have a lion's hindquarters. Its eagle's head is conventionally given prominent ears; these are sometimes described as the lion's ears, but are often elongated (more like a horse's), and are sometimes feathered.
The earliest depiction of griffins are the 15th century BC frescoes in the Throne Room of the Bronze Age Palace of Knossos, as restored by Sir Arthur Evans. It continued being a favored decorative theme in Archaic and Classical Greek art.
In Central Asia the griffin appears about a thousand years after Bronze Age Crete, in the 5th–4th centuries BC, probably originating from the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The Achaemenids considered the griffin "a protector from evil, witchcraft and secret slander".
The modern generalist calls it the lion-griffin, as for example, Robin Lane Fox, in Alexander the Great, 1973:31 and notes p. 506, who remarks a lion-griffin attacking a stag in a pebble mosaic Dartmouth College expedition at Pella, perhaps as an emblem of the kingdom of Macedon or a personal one of Alexander's successor Antipater.
The Pisa Griffin is a large bronze sculpture which has been in Pisa in Italy since the Middle Ages, though it is of Islamic origin. It is the largest bronze medieval Islamic sculpture known, at over three feet tall, and was probably created in the 11th century in Al-Andaluz. From about 1100 it was placed on a column on the roof of Pisa Cathedral until replaced by a replica in 1832; the original is now in the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo (Cathedral Museum), Pisa.
According to legend, griffins not only mated for life, but also, if either partner died, then the other would continue throughout the rest of its life alone, never to search for a new mate.
According to Stephen Friar's New Dictionary of Heraldry, a griffin's claw was believed to have medicinal properties and one of its feathers could restore sight to the blind. Goblets fashioned from griffin claws (actually antelope horns) and griffin eggs (actually ostrich eggs) were highly prized in medieval European courts.
When it emerged as a major seafaring power in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, griffins commenced to be depicted as part of the Republic of Genoa's coat of arms, rearing at the sides of the shield bearing the Cross of St. George.
By the 12th century the appearance of the griffin was substantially fixed: "All its bodily members are like a lion's, but its wings and mask are like an eagle's." It is not yet clear if its forelimbs are those of an eagle or of a lion. Although the description implies the latter, it was left to the heralds to clarify that.
In heraldry, the griffin's amalgamation of lion and eagle gains in courage and boldness, and it is always drawn to powerful fierce monsters. It is used to denote strength and military courage and leadership. Griffins are portrayed with rear body of a lion, an eagle's head, with erect ears, and feathered breast, with forelegs of an eagle, including claws. The combination indicates a combination of intelligence and strength.
In British heraldry, a male griffin is shown without wings, its body covered in tufts of formidable spikes, with a short tusk emerging from the forehead, as for a unicorn. The female griffin with wings is more commonly used.
As for modern uses, the griffin is the symbol of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; bronze castings of them perch on each corner of the museum's roof, protecting its collection. Similarly, prior to the mid-1990s a griffin formed part of the logo of Midland Bank.
The griffin is the logo of United Paper Mills, Vauxhall Motors, and of Scania and its former group partners SAAB-Aircraft and Saab Automobile. The latest fighter produced by the SAAB-Aircraft company bears the name of "Gripen" (Griffin), but as a result of public competition. General Atomics has used the term "Griffin Eye" for its intelligence surveillance platform based on a Hawker Beechcraft King Air 35ER civilian aircraft.
Griffins, like many other fictional creatures, frequently appear within works under the fantasy genre. Examples of fantasy-oriented franchises that includes griffins includes Warcraft, Dungeons and Dragons, Ragnarok Online, Harry Potter, My Little Pony (!), and of course, Masters of the Universe..
So, how's the toy? Very impressive, but I think there's a certain irony in the fact that the concept of a griffin borrows aspects from other existing animals, because the Griffin figure certainly borrows aspects from previously released animals in the Masters of the Universe Classics line -- most notably most of the body used for Battle Cat and Panthor, and Swiftwind's wings.
Now, in fairness, the Griffin has no shortage of original parts, and there had to be some modifications even of existing parts to allow for the wings to be attached. Battle Cat and Panthor didn't have sockets in their sides to accommodate wings, for example.
Let's consider some of the traditional aspects of a griffin as they relate to the Masters of the Universe version. Head of an eagle? Okay. Well, we know that Eternia has birds of prey that are very similar to those of Earth. Birds such as Zoar and Screeech, who have been miniaturized to more reasonable proportions in the Classics line, are proof enough of this. And except for their unusual coloration, they're structurally very similar to birds of prey on Earth.
But this Griffin's head is pushing the definition a bit. If this is the head of an eagle, then somewhere on Eternia, there are some seriously nasty-looking eagles that are probably too embarrassed to show their faces.
I find it interesting that the possible origin of the mythological griffins on Earth is related to some misidentified dinosaur fossils, of the type that had large beaks, because there's definitely a dinosaur-like look to the beak of the Eternian Griffin. The beak is a massive part of the head, yellow orange in color, rather craggy and bone-like in appearance, and the upper part of the beak has a pronounced upturned spike as part of its structure, as well as the customary downturned part of the beak. Similarly, the lower portion of the beak has a smaller, but still distinct, downturned section to it.
This is not a beak that anyone in their right mind would want to get anywhere close to. If the Griffin didn't just snap your arm off in its mouth, it would probably gore you open with the spike on the top of the beak.
The rest of the head is covered mostly in brown fur, although there are six distinct gray feathers, three on each side, protruding from facial frills towards the back. The ears are long and pointed, and strangest of all, the Griffin has four eyes, two on each side, one above the other. There's something that was never postulated for any of this critter's Earth-based counterparts. I have no idea what this does to the Griffin's vision.
Most of the body is the same as that for Battle Cat and Panthor, although the neck section had to be redone in order to produce a neck with a more pronounced furry frill on the top. Additionally, the Griffin has a bifurcated tail, that splits into two close to the tip.
Additionally, the front part of the main body had to be reworked to accommodate the wings. These were first used on Swiftwind, as indicated earlier, although they've been recolored from Swiftwind's near neon color scheme to several shades of brown with long gray tips.
Let me say this about the sculpting of the figure. There's no sculpting that the Four Horsemen do badly, of course. Masters of the Universe, DC Universe, whatever, it's all spectacular. But the amount of detail that they're able to put into things like fur and feathers is absolutely amazing. Now, it's not often, not surprisingly, that both get shown off on the same figure. But on the Griffin here, both fur and feathers are showcased superbly well.
According to the ancient myths, the average Griffin had eagle claws on its forelegs, and lion's paws on its back legs, much like most of the rest of its body. Well, somebody forgot to explain that to the Eternian Griffin. In this case, the forelegs have lion's paws, while the back legs have these huge, bird-like feet, with two huge toes facing forward, with vicious-looking black claws at their tips, and a third, much smaller toe, pointed behind, with a smaller but still mean-looking claw.
There's a degree to which this makes sense to be. If the Griffin decides to swoop down on you from the skies head first, your immediate concern isn't going to be the paws, it's going to be that horrific beak. If, on the other hand, the Griffin decides to swoop down from something more like an upright position, then the rear legs are going to be the first things to hit upon arrival, and it is here where the massive talons would come into play.
Credit once again to the sculptors, as well. They probably could have come up with just one bird-like foot and used it twice, but the feet are distinct. Each one has a slightly larger "big" toe than the second toe.
Admittedly, it still looks more than a little strange, but then this entire creature looks more than a little strange.
And the Griffin has a saddle! I initially thought it might have been reworked from Panthor's, but it is actually unique to the figure. It's dark blue in color, with a great many mean-looking spiked ridges. Doesn't look like it provides an especially comfortable ride, but then again, how comfortable is it going to be riding one of these things through the skies to begin with? I don't even see a seat belt on the saddle, and I can't say that the Griffin looks especially domesticated...
He does, however, look considerably articulated, which the Griffin most certainly is. Unlike the animals from the original Masters of the Universe line, which weren't really articulated at all, the animals in the Classics line have extensive articulation. The Griffin is fully poseable at the head, jaw, neck, mid-torso, shoulders, elbows, paws, hips, dual articulation in the rear legs at the knees, rear feet, and tail. Any number of the articulation points also include a rotational swivel.
Here's the Griffin's backstory, according to the scroll-like bio card on the package:
Griffins, great flying beasts originally brought to Eternia by Star Merchants, broke free and lived in a wild colony deep in the Vine Jungle. Here they were once again enslaved, becoming the steed of choice for the savage Beast Men living in their treetop villages. Raqquill Rqazz, a Beast Man serving Skeletor from Snake Mountain, often calls upon several Griffins to carry him and his master into battle. During the Second Ultimate Battleground, several hundred Griffins were commanded to attack Grayskull Tower, hoping to weaken the Masters' defense perimeter. Soaring high above Eternia, Griffins bring terror to those below.
What was I saying about parked cars? And several hundred of these things showed up?
It's interesting to note that the Griffins are not native to Eternia, but were brought here by Star Merchants, apparently to be sold! I mean -- sheesh -- whatever happened to star merchants that just carried tribbles?
Of course, animals turning up where they're not really supposed to be, or where they did not originate, is not an uncommon problem in real life here on Earth. Ask anybody living in Florida who's found a ten-foot python in their backyard.
So, what's my final word? At first, I wasn't entirely sure what to make of this Griffin. I needed a little memory refresher as to where he fit in to the storyline. But with that information in hand, and with, of course, a superbly detailed and articulated figure, I'm very pleased to welcome the Griffin into my Masters of the Universe collection, and I'm certain that you will be, as well.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of the GRIFFIN definitely has my highest recommendation!