REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS KOBRA KHAN
Most people don't seem to like snakes. It seems to be almost instinctive. I certainly do my best to avoid the things, and my apartment complex posts warnings when there have been sightings of rattlesnakes in the area. If you call somebody a snake, it's certainly not a term of endearment. Snakes certainly don't have a very good reputation in pop culture, either. Who is the primary enemy of G.I. Joe? Cobra. What did the main bad guys in MASK call themselves? VENOM. There's a creepy bad guy in the DC Universe called Kobra, who definitely has adopted a reptilian motif. The Marvel Universe has a collection of villains known as the Serpent Society.
And in the world of Masters of the Universe, you have the Snake-Men. An entirely separate group from Skeletor and his crew, they were seen as a particularly dastardly and, dare I say it, cold-blooded group of evil-doers, and this was certainly made manifest when they got no shortage of screen time in the second season of the 2002-era animated series.
But before there was King Hssss and the rest of the distinct Snake-Men, there was another reptilian reprobate that was released entirely on his own, who went by the name of Kobra Khan, and he has now been added to the modern Masters of the Universe Classics line of action figures!
To what degree Kobra Khan was intended as a deliberate precursor to the Snake-Men, I have no real idea, but I'm inclined to think that, initially at least, the answer to that speculation would be, "not very much". I suspect that when Kobra Khan first came on the scene, he was considered simply another bizarre henchman for Skeletor.
By the time of Kobra Khan's release, the world of Eternia had already readily proven itself to be a planet where sentient, humanoid life had taken a wide range of forms. Although there was no shortage of fairly straightforward humans, mostly evidenced in central characters such as He-Man, Man-at-Arms, and Teela, there was just as certainly no shortage of species that, while more or less humanoid, bore distinct animal-like traits as well. Beast Man had certain simian traits; Buzz Off was basically a humanoid bee; Mer-Man was something along the lines of a fish man; and Stinkor was, of all things, a skunk man. It's not too far of a leap to imagine that someone figured -- hey, why not a snake man? And so Kobra Khan came along, well in advance of the specific group of Snake-Men.
Of course, during the run of the original Masters of the Universe concept, there wasn't a lot of attention paid to origins and backstories, on either the toys or within the animated series. The closest anything came to origins were the mini-comics, and they sometimes contradicted events or specific particulars within the cartoon. Interestingly enough, since he came along well in advance of the actual Snake Men, Kobra Khan is the only character even loosely affiliated with the Snake Men who appeared in the animated series, which ceased production by the time the Snake Men were introduced into the toy line. He appears as one of Skeletor's minions in the animated series, in which he sprays a sleeping gas, and on one occasion, is shown to have stretchable arms similar to the Sssqueeze character.
Later, 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.
Kobra Khan and the Snake Men fare better in the mini-comics, which presents an origin which was later utilized to some degree by the 2002 animated series, and even manages to work the initially non-affiliated Kobra Khan into the mix.
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, who had been on Etheria in the employ of the Horde. 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. Though Skeletor is unable to conquer Central Tower, a feat which would have given him the power of all three towers, 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.
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 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.
Clearly some of these events, including the appearance of He-Ro and the use of mechanically augmented dinosaurs, were intended to be part of the 1987 line of Masters of the Universe toys which came to an abrupt end.
When the 2002 series got running, and it was decided to bring the Snake-Men into it, not only as part of the toy line but also as the main adversary of the second season, at least some elements of the mini-comic origin were brought over, in that the Snake Men were an ancient evil that were considered worse than Skeletor, and the fact that Kobra Khan had been working for Skeletor, when in reality it was his objective to free the Snake Men, which he succeeded in doing alongside Evil-Lyn.
This origin story has largely been maintained by the bio card for the action figure, which reads as follows:
KOBRA KHAN - Evil Master of Snakes
A descendant of the ancient Snake Men, Khan became fascinated with the many legends of their victories in the Great Wars. Breaking into the archives of Eternos Palace, he learned that the great King Hssss had been locked in the Void at the end of the war. In a ruse to free his King, Khan joined forces with Skeletor and, with the help of Evil-Lyn, they acquired Zodak's staff, the key to freeing his Snake Men brethren. Together he and Evil-Lyn opened the Snake Pit portal, releasing Hssss and his ageless army, returning their terror to Eternia. Khan went on to loyally serve Hssss, controlling his prey with his evil hypnotic mist!
And that's not a bad summation of how events played out in the 2002 animated series. The obvious difference between this and the mini-comics is that there was never any alliance between Skeletor and King Hssss. Although Skeletor certainly didn't help He-Man and the other Masters, he had no great use for the Snake Men, either, and the feeling was most definitely mutual.
The one thing the bio card doesn't mention is that in the animated series, King Hssss and the distinct Snake Men didn't have much respect for Kobra Khan. He was a descendant, not an equal, and although he pledged his loyalty to them and was certainly of use, he was treated pretty much with the same sort of disdain that the varsity high school football team would show to a member of the high school chess club. You almost felt sorry for the poor sap.
So, how's the figure? Extremely well done. Kobra Khan has been part of both the original and 2002 Masters of the Universe lines. As one would expect, his Classics incarnation takes most of its cues from the original, but there are a few modern acknowledgments, or at least one big one, anyway.
The original Kobra Khan had a snake-like head, but a rather rotund body, which used fairly standard arms and legs. The 2002 Kobra Khan figure, in keeping with the fact that the 2002 Masters line was much more individualistic and highly stylized, was actually a rather slender individual relative to most of the characters in the line, and was extremely scaly.
The modern Kobra Khan is not slender. Neither is he rotund. Rather, his distinctively-designed torso has been made as an entirely new figure torso, but maintaining the same muscular proportions as most of the Masters of the Universe Classics figures. No great surprise, Kobra Khan uses standard arms and legs, which are obviously not scaly in appearance.
Kobra Khan's body color is a dark olive green. He has a decidedly snake-like head, with a wide-open mouth with an unusually round back to it. This is a reflection of the fact that both the original Kobra Khan and his 2002 counterpart had the ability to spray water from their mouths.
Yes, Kobra Khan not only has some aspects of his appearance in common with a cobra -- but a spitting cobra, no less.
This action feature of the original two versions of Kobra Khan wasn't so much akin to a squirt gun, but was more reminiscent of a pump sprayer, the sort of thing you might find window cleaner in or some such. I'm surprised no one ever thought of using it as a way to get children to do certain of their chores. "Here's a cloth and here's Kobra Khan, Billy, now please get those smudges off of your window..."
Anyway, the modern Kobra Khan does not have the squirting feature. Few of the Masters of the Universe Classics figures that had unusual features like this have had them carry over into the modern line unless they were absolutely crucial to the character, and could be worked out reasonably effectively. Thus, Tri-Klops has his spinning visor, Man-At-Arms has changeable faces, but Leech doesn't stick to anything, and Kobra Khan doesn't squirt. Not a big loss as far as I'm concerned.
The interior of Kobra Khan's mouth is a dark red, and there are some concentric circles that are designed to be reminiscent of the original squirting mechanism. Four distinct fang-like teeth are also visible, and Kobra Khan has light green outlines around his eyes.
Kobra Khan's eyes are especially unusual. Although intended to be snake-like in appearance, they actually have horizontal slits, rather than vertical. Eternian development of life takes another left turn at Albuquerque.
Although Kobra Khan's arms and legs have clearly seen previous use, the torso is entirely new. While it maintains the same muscular physique common to most males in the Masters of the Universe line, it has large scales designed into it, as well as three distinct ridges. Two of these ridges, tan in color, start at the waist, go over the shoulders, and taper down the back to the waist once again. The third ridge, a lighter green in color, starts at the waist, stops at the neck, and then resumes at the back of the neck and tapers down to the waist.
Kobra Khan is also wearing a scaled loincloch, brown in color, with a very bright green belt. Kobra Khan's boots are also brown. His feet have the same three clawed toes that any number of bad guys in the line, including Skeletor, possess, but the boots from the ankles to the tops have a sort of feathered look to them! Well, people wear snake-skin boots. Maybe snake-men like feathered boots?
The biggest concession the modern Kobra Khan figure makes is with regard to the second head that is provided with the figure. The original Kobra Khan had a fairly straightforward, snake-like head. The 2002 Kobra Khan bore a greater similarity to an actual cobra, in that the head was designed to looked like it had the hooded side-flaps that cobras are known to possess. On the 2002 figure, this was accomplished rather oddly, by designing the hooded section as a separate piece, and attaching it to the back of the figure, whereby it swept up over the shoulders. This allowed the actual head to maintain its freedom of movement, not to mention allowed it to be removed so that the torso could be filled with water in order to allow for the squirting feature.
On the Classics figure, no such concession needed to be made, and so the "hooded cobra" feature could simply be attached to the back of the head. The head is otherwise identical to the "non-hooded" version, but is makes for an interesting and rather imposing presence for Kobra Khan. The hooded feature sweeps outward to the sides in two curved sections, that are a lighter green on the front, and tapers slightly down the back. Kobra Khan still has a good range of motion even with this larger head in place.
So, which head to I prefer? I'm not really sure. The non-hooded head does have a certain amount of tradition backing it. But the hooded head makes the character look more dangerous. I suppose it could just as easily be argued that, most of the time. Kobra Khan has a non-hooded appearance, but the hooded parts flare up as he's preparing to spray that toxic/hypnotic mist of his or whatever. And such an explanation would certainly be in keeping with the capabilities of actual cobras.
Of course, the figure is superbly articulated. Kobra Khan is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles.
Any complaints? Just one. The black slit of a pupil on the left eye of the non-hooded head was mis-aligned. The pupils are actually sculpted into the eye, and somebody missed. It's nothing I can't fix on my own, but the point is, I shouldn't have to. I realize this is a mass production environment, but this was just careless, and I find it very difficult to excuse carelessness.
Kobra Khan comes with two accessories, other than the second head. One is a bright red-orange blaster gun of some sort. The other is this creepy little six-legged semi-reptilian pet, that's basically the same color green as he is. Apparently this was actually seen during the 2002 animated series. I must've missed that episode. It's a nicely designed little critter, anyway, and well-painted, including a couple of large teeth protruding from the lower jaw.
So, what's my final word? Kobra Khan is a reasonably significant player in the Masters universe. A precursor to the Snake Men, who was worked into their world very effectively in both the mini-comics and the 2002 animated series, he also has the distinction of being the only member of their group, even if he wasn't quite officially one of them (the package distinctly does NOT bear a Snake Men logo) to have appeared in the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series.
And certainly Mattel has done a great job with the modern figure. It's not often that they'll have the Four Horsemen sculpt an entirely new torso for one of these figures. Usually they'll do body armor. But that wouldn't have really been appropriate for Kobra Khan, since this isn't body armor. It's his actual body. And Mattel and the sculpting and design team are certainly to be commended for making sure Kobra Khan came out right, and the end result is indeed one very outstanding figure. The second "hooded" head is also a welcome addition. I am certain that any fan of the Masters of the Universe concept will welcome this superb figure into their collection.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of KOBRA KHAN definitely has my highest recommendation!