REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS KING HSSSS
It's a rare thing in the action figure world when a line manages to develop more than one distinct group of enemies for its main heroes to combat. In fact, I can think of only two such examples -- G.I. Joe and Masters of the Universe.
I suppose it is possible to include Transformers here, if you want to count Unicron, since he was a threat to all Transformers, but he represented a single entity, not a group.
G.I. Joe started out with Cobra as their main enemy. But over the years, others came along. There were the Dreadnoks, who admittedly were allied with Cobra more often than not, but were still considered somewhat separate. There were the Iron Grenadiers, an enemy force developed by Destro when he left Cobra for a time. There was HeadMan and his HeadHunters, who were developed for the Drug Elimination Force to combat, and there were the Lunartix Aliens, an adversary for the Star Brigade team. Start including the Convention Sets and you get the Red Shadows, who started out as a European enemy force, and loosely-allied-to-Cobra groups like the Coil and Major Bludd's Skull Squad.
Masters of the Universe didn't develop quite this many adversaries for He-Man and his allies to fight, but technically speaking, it wasn't as large a line, and it didn't have as long a run in its original incarnation. Nevertheless, over the course of its original run, He-Man not only had to combat the forces of Skeletor, but also take on Hordak and his Evil Horde, and the ancient evil of the Snake-Men, as well.
In the original animated series, He-Man was given a bit more of a break. Hordak and his Evil Horde moved to Etheria, to take over the planet and give She-Ra and her allies assorted grief while they tried to free the planet from Hordak's rule. That's not to say that Hordak didn't turn up once in a while on Eternia.
The Snake-Men were another matter. By the time they were developed for the original toy line, the animated series had run its course. A few of them turned up, strangely allied with the Horde, in the She-Ra animated series, as little more than cameos, and that was about it. And at no point did the leader of the Snake-Men, then known as King Hiss, put in an appearance.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS line has been most effective in bringing many of He-Man's enemies into the modern line, and building a more powerful backstory for them than ever before, trying to unite as many of the sources available as possible, including the original mini-comics, the Filmation animated series, and the 2002 animated series from Mike Young Productions. We've had figures of Skeletor, and plenty of his minions, Hordak and at least one of his lieutenants, the ultimate in bad hair days for action figures, Grizzlor, and now we have the leader of the Snake-Men, whose name has been slightly changed to KING HSSSS.
Since the Snake-Men never appeared significantly in the original animated series, we are left with other sources to develop a background for the King Hssss character and his minions. When King Hiss first appeared in the toy line, he was portrayed as a bad guy who would try to pass himself off as a good guy, and then strike when least expected. It was clever, as was the original figure in its own way (and I will discuss why shortly, but I don't really want to give anything away).
This idea of mimicking a hero was completely dismissed in the 2002 incarnation of the character, who played a significant role in the second season of the animated series, and who had an admittedly hard to find figure. This revised King Hssss had no heroic notions about him whatsoever.
Let's consider the history of the Snake-Men, with a little online research assistance.
In the distant past the Snake Men were a vast, ruthless army that conquered numerous worlds, and served an evil ruler named King Hiss. Hiss and the Snake Men tried to conquer Eternia, and created Snake Mountain as their base of operations. However, the Elders of Eternia proved too powerful for the Snake Men and used their magic to cast Hiss and his army into a limbo-like dimension. This caused the empire of the Snake Men to collapse, although a small number of them remained on Eternia. Eventually, Hiss is set free by Skeletor, who had made Snake Mountain his base.
Hiss and Skeletor form an uneasy alliance against He-Man, the greatest opposition to their mutual dreams of conquest. Skeletor's Snake Man minion, Kobra Khan, serves as his ambassador to King Hiss. Together the two villains are able to trap He-Man. They attempt to use their combined magic to pull the entire Snake Man army back into Eternia, but even their combined magical abilities united are only strong enough to return two snake soldiers: Tung Lashor and Rattlor. Realizing that they need more potent magic to resurrect the entire army, Hiss and Skeletor take He-Man's Power Sword, and attempt to use it to summon forth all the Snake Men. However, He-Man is able to free himself and recover his sword, foiling the return of the reptilian hordes.
Despite their initial failure, King Hiss and Skeletor move forward with their plans of conquest. The two villains once again combine their magic to raise three great towers that had been buried eons ago by the Elders of Eternia. The Elders had sunk the towers below the earth to ensure that they would never fall into the hands of the Snake Men or any other evil forces. The three towers were Grayskull Tower, which possesses the power of good, Viper Tower, possessing the power of evil and Central Tower which possesses the power of both. Hiss and Skeletor both secretly plan to betray each other once they have taken control of the towers. Skeletor is unable to conquer the Central Tower, a feat which would have given him the power of all three towers. However, King Hiss is able to seize Viper Tower. Using the magic of Viper Tower he is able to transport two more Snake Men from limbo, Snake Face and Sssqueeze.
Not long after, in a battle in Viper Tower, He-Man turns all the Snake Men into stone, by reflecting Snake Face's power of petrifaction back at them. Snake Face and Sssqueeze appear in the later mini-comic "Energy Zoids".
Later He-Man and the Sorceress venture into Eternia's past, to the time when the Snake Men originally invaded Eternia. Witnessing the Snake Men terrorizing a village He-Man wants to step in, however the Sorceress prevents him, as his interference could alter history. However, unbeknownst to the Sorceress, Skeletor had followed them through the time stream. Upon arriving he joins forces with King Hiss, saying that he wishes to help them and that his magic powers could help destroy the Elders. King Hiss accepts Skeletor's offer and thinking to himself "Perhaps this is an emissary from the Unnamed One whom we serve". The full meaning of this statement is never disclosed. The Snake Men rode into battle on the backs of mechanically augmented dinosaurs.
Seeing that Skeletor had entered the past, the Sorceress decides that it is necessary for He-Man to become involved, disguising him with her magic, she sends He-Man into battle against Skeletor, King Hiss and the Snake Man army. However, before the battle can conclude a shadowy figure, He-Ro, intervenes. Using magic he hurls Skeletor, the Sorceress and He-Man back to the future. The final fate of the Snake Men is never revealed, as the Masters of Universe toyline and its accompanying mini comics came to end.
None of the Snake Men are featured on Filmation's animated series, with the exception of Kobra Khan, a snake figure in Skeletor's service introduced earlier in the franchise's run. When the Snake Men were introduced, Kobra Khan was said to be a go-between, working for both Skeletor and King Hiss. The cartoon series had ceased production before the Snake Men could be introduced. Two Snake Men, Rattlor and Tung Lashor, were adapted to appear in the spin-off She-Ra: Princess of Power series, where they worked for Hordak as members of the Evil Horde, portrayed as generic warriors with no nod to their Snake Men origins. Tung Lashor, in particular bore little resemblance to his figure version, and inexplicably, is seen to be working for Skeletor in one episode, despite still wearing a Horde emblem.
The Snake Men play a large role in the second season of the Mike Young Productions cartoon series. They are a diverse group led by King Hssss, who prove to be as much a danger as Skeletor, who only makes three appearances through the entire story arc. Similar to the old story, the Snake Men are an ancient threat that plagued Eternia in the distant past until they were locked away in the void by the power of the Elders. The threat of the Snake Men was so ancient that in a way it predated the creation of the Elders themselves during the time of King Grayskull who fought against this menace. However, in this new version, they are presented as a very strong army, who, as well as taking on He-Man, are also at war with Skeletor instead of forging an alliance with him.
Had the 2002 series proceeded to a third season, Hordak and his Evil Horde would have been introduced, and it's been said that the Snake-Men would have been forced to ally with the heroic Masters to defeat them. Personally, I think it's a shame we never got to see this.
King Hssss, as portrayed in the 2002 animated series, was a seriously creepy character, arguably more evil than Skeletor, and who had the reptilian habit of literally devouring his fallen enemies. This he did to Zodak's brother, thankfully shown only in shadow, although this was gruesome enough, and intended to do to Evil-Lyn, even though she was largely responsible for freeing him.
Kobra Khan was shown as more or less a modern incarnation of the ancient Snake-Men. He was treated rather disdainfully by the others, who didn't regard him as truly one of them. He had to earn his place among the Snake-Men, and on a couple of occasions, seemed a tad repulsed by some of what he was expected to do.
So, with KING HSSSS now added to the Masters of the Universe Classics line, how's the figure? Very impressive, but also very clearly hailing from the original days more than 2002.
This is to be expected, as the line does call itself "Masters of the Universe CLASSICS". Now, some characters, such as Count Marzo or Chief Carnivus, don't really have any history in the original line, so they need to be adapted from their 2002 counterparts into the Classics line as effectively as possible. Other characters, and I certainly think this included King Hssss, had rather dramatically different appearances in their 2002 editions than they had originally. In cases such as these, the edict for the toy line is to render the toy as closely to the original as possible within the new figure format.
And, indeed, the Masters of the Universe Classics King Hssss accomplishes just this. In keeping with his "gimmick" at the time, that of an individual who appeared somewhat heroic but was truly villainous, King Hssss appears to be agreeably humanoid, even close to human -- something that even a fair number of the good guys among the Masters cannot necessarily claim to be. I've said it before -- Eternia is wither an anthropologist's dream or a Darwinian nightmare.
King Hssss' face appears to be fairly human, with an upturned, if slightly quirky grin on it. He appears to be wearing a mask over his eyes, which definitely look serpentine, with slits rather than rounded pupils. The mask is dark green, as is the helmet which he wears, which is designed to look ridged.
King Hssss appears to be outfitted in heavily ridged body armor, virtually from head to toe, that is dark green in color. This is extremely impressive in design, as it has necessitated that the design and sculpting team of the Four Horsemen craft virtually an entirely new figure for King Hssss. Certainly not only is the head an entirely new piece, but so are the arms, legs, and lower torso. The upper torso is covered by complex armor designed to match the ridged pattern of the arms and legs. And yet, the basic musculature of the body is still readily apparent. As I said, an extremely impressive design.
The lower torso, rather than being the traditional furry loincloth of most Masters of the Universe figures, is instead scaly, like a snake-skin loincloth. It is reddish brown in color. King Hssss is also wearing tan gloves and brown boots. The boots have been seen before, as have the hands, although the upper part of the gloves, molded as part of the lower arm, which still shows evidence of the ridged armor, are new parts.
There is a sort of broad necklace that King Hssss wears over the armor, which is a dark silver in color, segmented and looking almost scaly, and has as its centerpiece a coiled snake emblem, the mark of the Snake-Men. This portion has been painted a bright green.
The ultimate image of King Hssss is almost benign. You could just about see this guy as one of the good guys. Almost. Some actually might. For myself, I don't really like snakes, and living where I do in Arizona, I have encountered them from time to time, and it's not a pleasant encounter. Anything snake-like isn't really going to seem heroic or even friendly to me.
Now, for a moment, contrast this Masters of the Universe Classics version of King Hssss, which is based reasonably well on the original, with the 2002 incarnation of the figure. There's little pretense of heroism in that version. The head was long, narrow, and had a very nasty scowl on it. The helmet looked vaguely like that of a samurai. The armor was still green, but looked more reptilian. The loincloth was much more extensive, and much more snake-like. The visible hands and feet were green and clawed. You weren't going to mistake this individual for one of the good guys.
Of course, the King Hssss figure is superbly articulated, and is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso (even though it's concealed by armor), waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.
Any complaints in this regard? Nothing too serious. The head is a little loose. I have heard this reported on some message boards as not being uncommon. I'm not sure why this is the case. One person claimed his was like a "bobblehead". Mine is not that loose.
The shoulders are reversed. This has happened with Masters of the Universe Classics figures before, and generally speaking, isn't too big of a deal. It's not that big of a deal here. It doesn't impact the articulation, but it does throw the alignment of the armor ridges off a little bit between shoulders and upper arms below the swivel joint. Again, I have heard that most of the King Hssss figures ended up like this.
And on my figure, there's a little molding defect on the right shoulder, as if the plastic wasn't pressed into the mold all the way. It almost looks like a crack, and it did concern me greatly, until I realized what it was. I don't believe it is anything that will worsen, but I will be keeping an eye on it, and I would encourage Mattel to do some quality control checks at their factories. This sort of thing shouldn't happen. Suppose it had been part of King Hssss' hands, or face?
This brings us to King Hssss' special feature. He's not as humanoid as he wants you to think he is. The original figure -- and I confess I'm not entirely sure how the original figure worked, since I never had it -- had a torso that opened to reveal King Hssss' true nature, that he was not at all humanoid, but that, at the very least, his upper body was comprised of a coiled mass of slithering snakes! One represented his head, two represented his arms, and two more filled out the rest of his body.
The 2002 King Hssss figure accomplished this with a sort of "flip-top" feature. The head and hands of the humanoid front of the upper torso were articulated, but the arms were not. Flip the upper torso up, and there was a mass of coiled green snakes. The two short ones to the side represented King Hssss' arms, and had working mouths. Press a button on the back of the figure, and the central snake's head snapped up, as did the heads of two smaller snakes at the shoulders, and the mouth could be opened. These snakes were relatively small, but they conveyed the idea, and the "arm snakes" were articulated at the "shoulders".
The Masters of the Universe Classics version of King Hssss presented an interesting challenge. One of the highlights of this current line of Masters figures is a decided range of articulation that neither the original line nor the 2002 line possessed. This ultimately made the "snakes inside the torso" effect impossible. As it was, many new parts were created to render the "human" version of the figure. An existing torso was used, as one would expect. There was simply no way to incorporate the snakes INSIDE this set of molds.
And so, they were designated as a completely different upper torso! The upper torso of King Hssss separates fairly easily from the lower torso and legs (I've heard "too easily" from some, but mine seems secure when it's in place). And the snake torso included is, as one might expect, the most impressive ever.
The central snake has a thick body, fairly long neck, and large head. It has red eyes, and an articulated mouth with four fangs within. The next two snakes out are far narrower, and represent the arms. They are long, with snake-heads at the ends, with red eyes. These arms are actually "bendies", with wires incorporated into them to allow them to be posed. Finally, there are two additional snake heads and upper bodies, that are off to the side, far shorter in length than the "arm snakes", but about the same size. These do not move. Like the others, their eyes have been painted red.
The snakes have all been golden tan, with somewhat lighter, yellow-gold bellies. The reptilian scales have been very intricately detailed, and the snake heads are frighteningly realistic. I have no trouble whatsoever seeing this "true face" of King Hssss as one of the bad guys.
King Hssss comes with two accessories -- an otherwise nondescript green staff that has a bright green snake coiled around it. The snake is as effectively rendered as the ones that comprise King Hssss' upper body. The end result is a very effective and rather alarming staff. He also has a red shield, with a snake emblem on it, also nicely done.
Masters of the Universe Classics figures, unlike their predecessors, have comprehensive backstories on their packages, presented in the form of a scroll-like "bio card". The one for King Hssss reads as follows:
KING HSSSS - Dreadful Disguised Leader of the Snake Men
A servant of the Unnamed One, Hssss was chosen to lead an army of Snake Men to the planet of Eternia to plunder its magical secrets. He ruled Eternia for three centuries until a rebellion formed under D'vann Grayskull. Soon afterwards, the Horde invaded and Hssss was drawn into a three-way war. All three sides agreed to a temporary truce in order to construct the Three Towers, but Hssss was betrayed by Hordak and in time was banished to the Void by the Elders and Zodak. For five centuries he and his army waited until Evil-Lyn and a Snake Men descendant named Kobra Kahn opened the Snake Pit to free them. King Hssss often tricks foes by appearing heroic, but then transforms into a seething mass of serpents and leads the Snake Men into battle.
The story is interesting in that the "disguise" feature is almost an afterthought, which given just how despicably evil this guy is, it almost has to be. If anyone on Eternia has heard of King Hssss, they're not going to buy into a benevolent disguise. The backstory does an effective job of combining elements of the mini-comics and the 2002 animated series. The "Three Towers" mentioned were actually a playset offered in the original line, that was designed to represent Eternia itself, and consisted of three towers, two of which could be linked to the Castle Grayskull and Snake-Mountain playsets, as well as a monorail track system between them.
One other packaging note -- there's a sticker on the front of the package bubble that clearly denotes the Snake Men. It's a new logo, quite unlike the one used in the 2002 line, and I don't believe that there was a separate Snake-Men logo in the original line.
Will we see other Snake Men? I hope so. The problem, as with other members of the Evil Horde, is that a lot of the figures on both teams were entirely unique, and could not be easily rendered with existing molds. Still, I am hopeful that both the Horde and the Snake Men will see expansions to their ranks.
So, what's me final word here? This is a superb figure, and certainly has a well above-average number of unique parts. He's a very effective update of the original incarnation of King Hiss, and the way they managed to carry out his snake-torso is surprisingly effective. I'm very impressed and very pleased to add this figure to my collection, and I believe that any Masters of the Universe fan will welcome King Hssss into their collection.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of KING HSSSS definitely has my highest recommendation!