REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS MER-MAN
In both the 1980's animated series and the one from 2002, every time MER-MAN opened his mouth and spoke, he sounded like he was gargling. The only animated character I had more trouble understanding was Donald Duck.
I'm speaking of the latest entry in the truly superb MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS line of action figures available online through MattyCollector.Com. I'm talking, of course, about MER-MAN.
If there's any doubt about the popularity of this line, it should be noted that when Mer-Man first became available, he sold out in three hours. A second shipment of the figure was made available about two weeks later. THAT batch sold out in about three hours. Mattel literally can't seem to make enough of these guys.
So, who is Mer-Man? While the original line was not big on origin stories, the modern line, and assorted adventures over the years, have tried to fill in some of the details. According to the very cool, scroll-like bio-card on the back of his package, Mer-Man's real name is "Squidish Rex", and he is described as an "Ocean Warlord". The card goes on to say, "Ruler of the undersea realms of Eternia, Mer-Man was forced to serve in the armies of Skeletor after his kingdom was destroyed in a battle with rival ocean clans. His allegiance with Skeletor brings him to the surface world more often than he would like. Lurking deep beneath the sea of Rakash, Mer-Man awaits the evil call to arms of Skeletor!"
Here is more on t he character's backstory:
Mer-Man was part of the first series of Masters of the Universe action figures released by Mattel in 1981-1982. The character was conceived as Skeletor's most prominent henchmen after Beast Man.
Mer-Man features as a major character in almost all the various Master of the Universe media since the toyline's inception. This includes the original mini-comics that accompany the action figures, the Filmation animated series, both the DC Comics and Marvel Comics versions and the more recent animated series produced by Mike Young Productions.
In all these different interpretations of the Masters of the Universe mythology the major aspects of Mer-Man's character remain relatively unchanged. Mer-Man is apparently the king of a species of amphibious humanoid creatures who inhabit at least some part of the oceans of the planet Eternia. Sometimes it is stated that Mer-Man is not just the ruler of his own race but also the ruler of all that lies beneath the sea. Though a king in his own right Mer-Man is a thrall to Skeletor, the Lord of Destruction and ruler of Snake Mountain. Mer-Man's service of Skeletor means he is constantly at odds with He-Man and the other heroic champions of Eternia. When engaging the Heroic Weapons, Mer-Man is most frequently teamed up with Beast Man.
Mer-Man possesses a number of extra-human powers and abilities. It is unclear how many of these abilities are physiological traits possessed by his species and how many are skills unique to Mer-Man himself. Mer-Man is amphibious, being just as comfortable walking about on land, as he is swimming at the bottom of the ocean, although he is shown to be happier underwater.
Although his strength level is not on par with that of He-Man, Mer-Man seems to possess a physical might that is greater than that of the average human. It is clear however, that his strength is much greater underwater than on land.
Mer-Man also displays the ability to control a number of aquatic life forms through a primitive form of telepathy. It is stated in some stories that this power works only on cold-blooded sea creatures, having no effect on sea mammals.
From time to time Mer-Man's sword also displays special properties: on some occasions causing it to discharge a sort of freeze ray, encasing his targets in ice. It is unclear if the sword is a product of magic or a product of advanced Eternian technology. A trident spear or lance has also been shown as his weapon at times.
In the Filmation series, Mer-Mans distinctive gargling voice was provided by Alan Oppenheimer.
Interestingly enough, this is the same actor who portrayed Skeletor, Man-At-Arms, and several others. The man was nothing if not versatile.
The new figure is interesting in that it has two different heads that can be used. One of these is based on the classic look of the original toy, and this is the head that is attached to the figure in the package. However, I have chosen to display the figure with the alternate head. Although advertised as being based on early artwork for the character, presumably from the mini-comics or early package artwork, this second head is also closer in design to the 2002 Mer-Man figure which, however overly-stylized and pre-posed some of those figure may have been, were certainly more detailed and far less comical than their predecessors. This secondary head looks more vicious, and indeed, in its own way, more aquatic.
The first head, as I call it, since it's the one that is attached the figure in its package, isn't bad, in and of itself, and is indeed more reflective of the original toy. The head is mostly green, with two ridged ears along the top of the head, and what looks like sculpted hair or fur along the back -- something of an incongruity, in my opinion. The head has two roundish white eyes with very small pupils, framed in a brown carapace. The mouth is open, with a black interior, revealing two rows of pointy teeth.
This secondary head, on the other hand, has frills along the top, arguably the most comical aspect of the design, that look like some sort of fin-like ears, and yellow scales around the large eyes and upper lip, which is curled upward to reveal a single row of nasty-looking row of sharp, piranha-like teeth. The interior of the mouth is not painted -- it's only real detrimental point in my opinion. The back of the head is not sculpted to look like either fur or hair, but looks more shell-like, to some degree.
The neck assembly, somewhat hidden by the chest and shoulder armor, is actually a separate piece attached to the upper body, which allows for the easy exchange of the head, something that would not likely have been possible on the standard design of the figure. This "additional neck" has been given a scaly look to it, adding to Mer-Man's aquatic appearance.
Mattel, through the sculpting and design team known as the Four Horsemen, has constructed a truly amazing basic body design that is being used for their Masters of the Universe Classics figure. Gone is the stumpy-legged, bow-legged design of the original figures. Gone, too, is the more anime-influenced, pre-posed look of the 2002 figures. Now, those were cool figures. I still have mine, and I have no real complaint about them. But they were a little -- extreme -- in appearance.
The new Masters of the Universe Classics line is just what the concept and these cool characters needed -- something that was respectful to the characters, but took full advantage of the type of toy design, both in appearance and production, that is possible today.
Mer-Man, like the other Masters figures, is not at all pre-posed. He has a powerful, muscular body, but it is not disproportionate the way the original Masters were, with their tiny, bent-out legs. The overall body design reflects a powerful physique, one perhaps not entirely possible in the real world, but not as implausible or comical as the original figures, and not as extreme as the 2002 line.
Articulation is superb, something that both the original and the 2002 Masters line were somewhat lacking in. The original Masters of the Universe figures were poseable at the head, arms, legs, and waist. The 2002 Masters added an outward movement to the arms, and allowed for wrist rotation, but for some unfathomable reason, kept the otherwise rather limited articulation.
Fortunately, the new Masters of the Universe Classics figures have gone all out in the articulation department. Mer-Man is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper-arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, lower leg swivel (at the boot top) and ankles. It's a testament to the sculptors how well the articulation is incorporated into the design of the figure, especially the sometimes difficult upper arm and mid-torso articulation.
Mer-Man is wearing a highly ornate chest and shoulder armor piece that greatly resembles but is a nice update on the original. Looking very aquatic in design, this scaled armor is yellow and tan in color, and has frilled shoulders and a ridged chest, ending in a flared section at the base. There are two small turquoise sections which could well be gemstones.
Mer-Man's furry loincloth -- a staple of most Masters figures -- is yellow with some tan enhancement brushed into it, and he has a bright green belt around his waist.
Mer-Man is also wearing yellow gloves, and shin armor that wraps around his lower legs, but leaves his three-toed feet bare. This is an interesting design aspect, because as much as anything, it reflects the figure as he appeared in the original Filmation animated series to a fair degree. The original Mer-Man toy did not have either gloves or any sort of boots or lower leg protection. The 2002 Mer-Man figure DID have wrist-bands and shin guards, but the shin guards were of a different look than the ones on this figure, and he didn't have gloves.
Of course, part of this on the new figure is due to the fact that, much like the original Masters of the Universe figures, a lot of parts are used from one figure to another. This isn't really a problem, although I do want to address one matter. I've noticed over the last few Masters figures that some of the articulation points are becoming a little loose, especially the upper arm swivels. Stratos had this problem, so did Faker, and so does Mer-Man. Mer-Man does NOT have the problem that Faker did, in that one of Faker's legs was quite loose at the hip (and I've heard of other who experienced the same problem).
Now, I don't know how many mold sets Mattel might have. However, after speaking with a friend of mine who used to work in the plastic injection molding industry, he explained that this sort of thing can happen if the molds are not kept properly clean. Given some of the major names coming up in the Masters collection -- Zodac, Hordak, Man-At-Arms -- I don't think any of us want to see increasingly floppy figures.
On the one hand, I don't want to see a figure whose joints are so tight that I am afraid to move them for fear of breaking the figure. On the other hand, a figure who is so loosely articulated as to be indistinguishable from a marionette isn't a good idea, either.
Mattel has had some quality control issues with this line, as well as with DC Universe Classics. I have seen some evidence (not the least of which was an encouraging response to a letter I had printed in ToyFare) that Mattel is aware of these matters and is working to correct them. Let us hope so.
Speaking of hands, as I mentioned in the paragraph before last, Mer-Man has been given very distinctive hands. They each have three fingers and a thumb, and the left hand is spread outward, to reveal visible webbing between the fingers. Nice bit of detail there. Even the space between the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, which is posed to hold weaponry, shows some sign of the webbing. That's especially impressive attention to detail in my opinion.
And on the subject of weaponry, Mer-Man comes with two such accessories. Most prominent is a large, yellow-gold trident, that has been designed to look as though it's been made from some sort of bone-like material. It is quite ornate and very well-detailed, with blue circles on each side. Interestingly, this is a two-piece item, with the staff being made from a fairly rigid plastic, and the trident "fork" itself being made from a very rubbery plastic. Yes, safety regulations do apply even to these collector-type toys.
Although I'm not so sure the sword would pass muster in that department. Also designed to appear to have been made from some sort of bone-like material. this 3-3.4"-long sword has a great many jagged teeth along it's fairly rigid blade. If it had a longer handle on it, I think I'd have a new letter-opener...
So, what's my final word here? There is no question in my mind that Mattel, in conjunction with the Four Horsemen sculpting and design team, has created the ultimate Masters of the Universe line, with these Masters of the Universe Classics figures. I honestly can't imagine how these figures will ever be surpassed. They're everything that the Masters should be -- astoundingly well-designed, respectful to the source material, extremely well-articulated, and darn cool-looking. It is my sincere hope that this line continues for many years to come.
It's certainly proven successful, if the recent sales are any indication. When's the last time you heard about anything selling out in three hours? So, granted, tracking down Mer-Man as you read this might not be the easiest thing in the world. It's not terribly likely you'll be able to just pop over to MattyCollector.Com and find him.
But, as I do say in circumstances like this -- there's always the secondary market. And some online stores have been carrying this line, as well, to one degree or another.
With all that said, the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS MER-MAN most definitely has my highest recommendation!