REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE "CLUB FILMATION" NEPTHU
I've had a long-standing fascination for ancient Egyptian culture and imagery. I'm not entirely sure why. I'm not Egyptian. A cursory look at my family tree reveals that I'm half-English, one-quarter Norwegian, and the rest is something of a mixed bag, but no Egyptian. But, I've always been rather fascinated by it.
And yet, it seems as though there haven't been a lot of Egyptian-themed action figures. A basic look at my collection revealed roughly three.
When the Gundam line of action figures was running (and I still miss it), there was a figure in the G-Gundam line, which featured Gundam mobile suits based on various countries, and is my favorite of the Gundam series, called "Mummy Gundam" that had a distinctly Egyptian look to it. And no, it didn't look like a mummy.
The DC Universe Classics line produced a figure of a character called Golden Pharaoh, who was originally developed specifically for the Super Powers line, a DC-based action figure line in the mid-1980's from Kenner. Technically, I've also got the original Golden Pharaoh, but he suffered some damage a lot of years ago. So I suppose he counts as a third. I always liked Golden Pharaoh, and Mattel and the Four Horsemen did a really outstanding job producing an astoundingly detailed modern incarnation of this unusual and cool character.
There are several other DC characters that either have, or had, some Egyptian connection, including Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Dr. Fate, and Black Adam. But they don't really look the part all that much, so I don't really count them.
And I suppose we can count Mumm-Ra from ThunderCats, although I've never been 100% certain whether the planet the ThunderCats arrived on, and which was home to Mumm-Ra, was really supposed to be Earth or not. It's sort of like Eternia -- it has a fair number of Earth-like characteristics, but otherwise...
It strikes me that Egyptian-themed character haven't tended to fare very positively in pop culture presentations. They've generally been presented as the bad guys, from Biblical epics right on through. There have been occasional exceptions, of course, but for the most part, they haven't been on the heroic side.
So, where am I going with all this? There's been an interesting line of special Masters of the Universe Classics figures, under the banner of CLUB FILMATION, that has produced figures of characters that were specifically presented in the original animated series, but never received figures in the original line. One of these is a decidedly Egyptian-looking character -- and yeah, sure enough, he's a bad guy -- by the name of NEPTHU.
I have to admit, that's a rather Egyptian sounding name. I don't think it's a name that's specifically Egyptian, relative to any well-known Egyptians from history, but it does have the sense of sounding like it.
Here we get into a mild problem. Technically, I don't imagine that Eternia actually has an "Egypt" per se. It's like when I reviewed Clamp Champ. Do I call him "African-American"? I doubt Eternia has an Africa or an America, either, but that's considered the appropriate term to use these days. Similarly, I doubt that Eternia has an Egypt, but this guy certainly looks the part.
Nepthu appeared in the episode "Temple of the Sun". In this episode, a poor man named Nepthu limps across the Sands of Time in search for the Temple of The Sun. Inside he claims the Scarab of Power, a magical jewel. The scarab's power transforms Nepthu into a muscular, dominating being. Nepthu uses the scarab to capture a falcon flying over the Sands of Time, which just happens to be Zoar. The Sorceress contacts Adam through telepathy revealing her location.
Adam immediately transforms into He-Man, but Cringer refuses to become Battle Cat, although he is willing to accompany He-Man as Cringer. When they arrive at the Temple of The Sun, many obstacles block their path, thus Cringer finally decides to become Battle Cat. Nepthu is busy creating an army of Sand Demons with which to take over Eternia.
Zoar tries to escape but Nepthu stops her fleeing by crystallizing her. He-Man confronts Nepthu and along with Battle Cat defeats all of his Sand Demons. He-Man takes the scarab and destroys it. Nepthu turns back into his normal self and Zoar is freed..
I've noted that the Club Filmation figures have leaned heavily towards the bad guys, and I think there's a couple of good reasons for this. One, from a series production standpoint, would be to tell some different types of stories other than He-Man's latest clash with Skeletor. Another reason, in-universe, would be to give Skeletor a chance to rest up and think of some new way to try to foil He-Man while achieving his own goals. And early on in the series, the cast was fairly limited, as any toy-based animated series is likely to be. As the toy line grows, new characters can be introduced, but if you start an animated series right alongside the toy line, your initial episodes aren't going to have a cast of thousands -- or even dozens. So you might have to come up with a few of your own. Such as Nepthu.
So, how's the figure? Really very impressive. And given that he was released at the same time as Mantenna, Lord Dactus, and the Horde Troopers, as abundantly cool as those figures are, it's rather nice to have gotten one that looked reasonably human.
Nepthu is described on his package as a "Wicked Sun Sorcerer". And once again, we come around to the Egyptian connection, as it would apply to the myths that formed the basis for ancient Egyptian religion.
I think it would be appropriate to provide some measure of background on this subject. Sun worship was prevalent in ancient Egyptian religion. The earliest deities associated with the sun are all goddesses: Wadjet, Sekhmet, Hathor, Nut, Bast, Bat, and Menhit. First Hathor, and then Isis, give birth to Horus and Ra.
The sun's movement across the sky represented a struggle between the Pharaoh's soul and an avatar of Osiris. Ra traveled across the sky in his solar-boat; at dawn he drove away the demon Apep of darkness. The "solarisation" of several local gods (Hnum-Re, Min-Re, Amon-Re) reached its peak in the period of the fifth dynasty.
Rituals to the god Amun who became identified with the sun god Ra were often carried out on the top of temple pylons. A Pylon mirrored the hieroglyph for 'horizon' or akhet, which was a depiction of two hills "between which the sun rose and set", associated with recreation and rebirth.
On the first Pylon of the temple of Isis at Philae, the pharaoh is shown slaying his enemies in the presence of Isis, Horus and Hathor. In the eighteenth dynasty, Akhenaten changed the polytheistic religion of Egypt to a monotheistic one, Atenism of the solar-disk and is the first recorded state monotheism. All other deities were replaced by the Aten, including Amun-Ra, the reigning sun god of Akhenaten's own region. Unlike other deities, the Aten did not have multiple forms. His only image was a disk - a symbol of the sun.
Soon after Akhenaten's death, worship of the traditional deities was reestablished by the religious leaders (Ay the High-Priest of Amen-Ra, mentor of Tutankhamen) who had adopted the Aten during the reign of Akhenaten.
Ra is the ancient Egyptian solar deity. By the Fifth Dynasty (2494 to 2345 BC) he had become a major god in ancient Egyptian religion, identified primarily with the midday sun. The meaning of the name is uncertain, but it is thought that if not a word for "sun" it may be a variant of or linked to words meaning "creative power" and "creator".
In later Egyptian dynastic times, Ra was merged with the god Horus, as Re-Horakhty ("Ra, who is Horus of the Two Horizons"). He was believed to rule in all parts of the created world: the sky, the earth, and the underworld. He was associated with the falcon or hawk. When in the New Kingdom the god Amun rose to prominence he was fused with Ra as Amun-Ra.
To the Egyptians, the sun represented light, warmth, and growth. This made the sun deity very important, as the sun was seen as the ruler of all that he created. The sun disk was either seen as the body or eye of Ra. All forms of life were believed to have been created by Ra. Ra was the father of Shu and Tefnut, whom he created. Shu was the god of the wind, and Tefnut was the goddess of the rain. Sekhmet was the Eye of Ra and was created by the fire in Ra's eye.
How well informed the producers of the show might have been about any of this I couldn't say. Some of the basics are pretty well general knowledge.
Nepthu really does look very human. There's nothing especially outlandish at all about his physical appearance. Mattel and the Four Horsemen did take one little liberty from his animated incarnation, and I'm rather pleased that they did. Based on pictures, including the one on the package card, Nepthu was drawn with these really deep, black shadows over his eyes. I don't know if Filmation was trying to imitate the shadowed outlines often seen on Egyptian paintings, and didn't quite get it, or what. But it definitely looks weird.
Mattel and the Four Horsemen decided to turn that into more normal-looking heavy eyebrows. Believe me, it's an improvement.
The funny think about Nepthu is that he doesn't look especially evil. Most of the bad guys in the Masters of the Universe concept tend to look pretty bizarre. Granted, so do some of the good guys. But I think Nepthu is one of the most normal-looking bad guys in the entire concept. This is doubtless due to the type of animation style that Filmation used for many of their series, which involved rotoscoping, which meant filming live actors performing various motions, and then basing the animation around that. So in the case of Filmation creating Nepthu, why come up with a freak if you don't have to?
In Nepthu's case, it's the clothes that make the man, and Nepthu's clothes definitely give him an Egyptian look. What might be a little surprising to some is that the figure isn't more ornate than he is. But let's remember, he was created for an animated series. The fancier you get, the tougher it is to maintain a consistent look in a cartoon.
I think we tend to have an image of ancient Egypt being particularly fancy and ornate, especially after that Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston and Yul Brenner that probably used every scenic artist and set designer the studio could get their hands on. And who knows? Back in the day, maybe Egypt really was that fancy. Sure, the sphinx and the pyramids are a bit dusty and faded these days, but hey, they're still standing. Let's see how good the average American metropolis looks in five thousand years.
Nepthu is wearing a very Egyptian-looking headpiece, almost a helmet. It looks like a rather high dome, in orange, with an angled green frame around its base, with a ring of gold at the bottom. Descending from this is what looks like a length of white fabric, covering the sides and back of the head. This is not unlike any number of headpieces worn by ancient pharaohs.
Nepthu has a wide, somewhat ridged blue collar around his neck, with a bit of metallic blue detail. Also rather Egyptian in design. He has blue armbands and wristbands, and very fancy blue boots.
Around his waist, he definitely does not have the typical furry loincloth of many Masters of the Universe figures. Instead, it's more of a smooth white loincloth, with an ornate orange belt, with lengths of orange straps descending from the front and back to complete the image.
Overall, it's extremely impressive, and I'm impressed by the number of new parts involved. Certainly the head is new, but so is the collar, the waistpiece, and, most notably, the upper arms with the armbands. I really don't recall seeing these on any previous Masters figure.
Mattel understandably tries to reuse as many body parts within this line as they possibly can from figure to figure. This makes good economic sense, and it gives the line as a whole a consistent look that I sincerely appreciate. For them to craft special upper arms, that still fit within the design, for this one particular figure like this, is impressive.
Nepthu comes with two accessories. One is an ankh, officially known as the Sun Scarab. This is a small, hand-held accessory, and Nepthu's left hand is designed to hold onto it. This particular unusual hand has turned up from time to time, and was first used on the Count Marzo figure. Interesting, since Nepthu has a connection to him. And, of course, the ankh, or scarab, represents more Egyptian mythology.
The other accessory is the crystallized form of Zoar, fairly large, with wings spread out. The main body is about 2 inches long, and it has a wingspan of 4-1/4". It's an entirely new item, made from clear plastic, and very impressively made and nicely detailed.
Naturally, Nepthu is superbly articulated. He is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivels, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivels, knees, boot tops, and ankles. Paint work on the figure is excellent.
Any complaints? None whatsoever. No mold creases, no loose parts, nothing. There isn't a thing wrong with this figure. If every figure that I mail ordered or bought in a store or won online or whatever was this good, I'd be one happy collector.
The card on the back of Nepthu's package, which outlines his backstory, more or less summarizes the episode in which he appears. It reads as follows:
NEPTHU - Wicked Sun Sorcerer
A devoted servant to Count Marzo, Nepthu was devastated when his master was transformed into a powerless old man, and vowed revenge. Without magical ability of his own, he spent years scouring the Sands of Fire and Sands of Time until he was also an old man. Nepthu eventually found the Temple of the Sun and within it the Sun Scarab and was transformed into a young wizard with a fervent desire to control the universe. His scarab was destroyed by He-Man, leaving him powerless, but he transformed once more when he pledged his devotion to King Hssss, during the Second Ultimate Battleground. Nepthu has powerful magical abilities that include freezing energy blasts as well as the ability to block telepathy and create an entire army made out of sand.
An entire army made out of sand, hmmm? Somebody should've told him he didn't need to take that notion of soldiers being grim-and-gritty quite so literally...
Obviously that part about joining up with King Hssss during the Second Ultimate Battleground wasn't part of the original episode, but it does a nice job of bringing the character up to date.
So, what's my final word? Nepthu is a very cool addition to the Masters of the Universe Classics collection. But I'd still like to find an explanation for all of this Egyptian type stuff being on Eternia. I know, I'm overthinking it for an animated series. Even so. We know there's some connection between Earth and Eternia. After all, Queen Marlena was originally Marlena Glenn, from Earth. An errant space mission brought her to Eternia, and given how big space is, that seems to be pushing coincidence and dumb luck just a little too far. Now, I'm not saying that she brought ancient Egyptian culture with her. I'm sure she didn't. But one wonders how far that connection between Eternia and Earth might go.
And continuing with that theory -- ever see the original "Stargate" movie? You know, those stargates that Sorceress opens to create shortcuts across Eternia look a little similar...
Whatever his origins, the Nepthu figure is certainly very impressive. I appreciate the fact that Mattel and the Four Horsemen made that eyebrow situation a lot less ridiculous-looking, and they really did a great job creating the necessary new parts to result in a truly outstanding figure. If you're a collector of the Masters of the Universe Classics line, you'll certainly want to make Nepthu a part of your collection. I'm pleased he's here with mine.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS "CLUB FILMATION" figure of NEPTHU definitely has my highest recommendation!