Without question, one of the top toy concepts of the 1980's was MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, even if, compared to lines such as Transformers and G.I. Joe, it was relatively short-lived. Nevertheless, the concept resulted in several seasons of an animated series, which essentially ushered in the era of first-run syndicated animation, a complete sequel concept in the form of She-Ra Princess of Power, a live-action movie, and a following that has simply refused to let the concept die for any significant length of time.
I believe one of the major appeals to the Masters concept is that it could do just about anything. Whereas G.I. Joe was at least somewhat grounded in real-life and the military, and Transformers was very specifically about robots, Masters could create just about any sort of bizarre creature and have it turn up somewhere on Eternia.
The greatest hero of Eternia is, of course, He-Man, super-powered alter ego of Prince Adam of the House of Randor. But honestly, what's a great hero without a great villain to go up against? And where else but Eternia are you going to find a guy who's just as much of a musclebody as the good guy, but has a skull for a head?
That would, of course, be SKELETOR.
The original Masters of the Universe line ran from 1982-1987, with no shortage of He-Man and Skeletor versions along the way. The second line, referred to politely as the New Adventures of He-Man -- and referred to by somewhat less polite terms from time to time, brought He-Man and Skeletor into the new concept, but not much of anyone else.
The 2002 Masters of the Universe line of course included Skeletor. These figures, unlike their stumpy-legged, over-muscled ancestors, were as a rule leaner and meaner in appearance, even if they weren't significantly more articulated. Nevertheless, the line of course included He-Man and Skeletor. Frankly, the line included so much of He-Man and Skeletor to the point of overkill that it was probably one of the factors responsible for the death of the toy line.
When the Four Horsemen, the sculpting team responsible for much of the 2002 series, proposed a new incarnation of the Masters of the Universe, which updated their classic look to better proportions and certainly better articulation, there was little doubt that it wouldn't take long for Skeletor to come on the scene. Interestingly enough, he wasn't the first villain in the line. That distinction went to Beast Man. Skeletor probably sent him on ahead to scout for trouble. But Skeletor soon followed, and has joined this new online exclusive toy line, available through MattyCollector.Com.
Skeletor's origins are a tricky bit of business. The original animated series produced by Filmation wasn't really one for providing extensive character backgrounds. And while the early Masters figures did come with mini-comics, many of their details were contradicted by the animated series whenever it did choose to present some background information. Start working in the edgier 2002 animated series and you've really got a mess on your hands, especially in the case of Skeletor, whose origins are tumultuous at best and confusing at worst. As I have frequently done, I turned to WikiPedia in the hopes of some clarity. What I found was just how convoluted Skeletor's background really is...
Tagged "The Evil Lord of Destruction", Skeletor is the greatest threat to present-day Eternia. Depicted as a muscular bluish humanoid with a purple hood over his yellowish bare-bone skull, Skeletor seeks to conquer Castle Grayskull so he can learn its ancient secrets, which would make him unstoppable and enable him to conquer and rule all of Eternia.
In the original mini-comics and in the Filmation series, Skeletor is said to be an evil demon-like being from Eternia's sister planet Infinita. A later Mattel mini-comic implies that he was once Keldor, brother of King Randor (therefore, uncle of Prince Adam/He-Man). The Mike Young Productions 2002 animated series confirms that Skeletor was once a man named Keldor, though no familial connection to Randor is ever openly established. Nevertheless in the audio commentary on the first volume it said that Keldor/Skeletor is indeed Randor's half-brother.
The first mini-comics that accompanied the 1981–1983 line of Masters of the Universe toys present the earliest version of continuity and are fascinating for their many differences from the more widely-known continuity of the later Filmation cartoon and the later minicomics which complement it. For example, there is no royal court of Eternia, King Randor, Queen Marlena, or Prince Adam. Instead, He-Man is depicted as the champion of a tribe of stone-age jungle-dwellers.
These very first mini-comics state that Skeletor was originally an inhabitant of another dimension, populated with others of "his kind". During "The Great Wars", a hole was opened in the dimensional wall and Skeletor was thrown from his world into Eternia. Significantly different from the lonelier and entirely self-serving Skeletor of later depictions, the villain's key motivation in this first story is to reopen the rift between his world and Eternia, thus allowing Skeletor's race to invade and conquer Eternia alongside him.
However, as this first incarnation of the franchise's continuity was particularly short-lived, many questions about this version of Skeletor's origin are left unanswered.
In the mini-comics that followed the cancellation of the Filmation animated series, which can be seen as following on from the same continuity as the Filmation series, although there are still various contradictions, it is hinted that Skeletor is in fact Keldor, King Randor's long lost brother.
This inference occurs specifically in the 1986 mini-comic entitled "The Search for Keldor," a story that involves Prince Adam and Randor searching for Randor's lost brother Keldor. When Skeletor learns of their quest, he muses that "they must never discover the secret of Keldor," as the truth will lead to his destruction.
In this story King Randor announces that Keldor disappeared years ago. "He thought to master magic; when his experiments went wrong and he was lost in a dimension beyond time!" One of the few elements of Skeletor's back story that remains consistent throughout the various continuities is that he had come to Eternia from another dimension.
It is likely that Randor's statement about Keldor disappearing to another dimension is an attempt to reconcile Skeletor being He-Man's uncle with his Extra-Eternian origins. To find out what happened to Keldor, Randor and the Sorceress attempt to peer through the dimensional veil.
Randor announces "I think I see Keldor… Or is it…" Before he can see anything else, Skeletor appears, determined to stop them from finding out any more. Although Skeletor is defeated, he is able to prevent Randor from discovering Keldor's fate.
Skeletor's frantic effort to cover up what happened to Keldor, combined with the fact that Keldor vanished to another dimension when attempting to become a master sorcerer, is taken as heavy inference that the two characters are indeed one and the same. Unfortunately, because the original toyline came to an end before the story could be resolved, it is never fully disclosed if this was officially intended to be the case.
Steven Grant, the writer of the mini-comic in question, stated in an interview that "As far as I remember, Keldor was Skeletor ... But, I don't think that was ever going to be revealed ... I seem to remember it as one of those things Mattel came up with out of the blue ... His back-story wasn't really worked out. Some sort of evil cosmic energies altered him. I think they were going for a Darth Vader thing. The main idea was that if they found out Skeletor was Keldor, they'd be able to find out what had changed him and might find some way to reverse it."
In the new continuity of the 2002 animated series, Skeletor's original name is definitely Keldor, his appearance as such is shown and his exploits partially depicted. However it seems unlikely that he is related to Randor in this continuity, as he has Skeletor's blue skin and some other slightly nonhuman features whilst still Keldor. In another interview with one of producers of the 2002 series, it is revealed that Keldor is the half brother of Randor; they have different mothers.
In this animated series, Skeletor was formerly a warlord known as Keldor who trained under Hordak. He gathered a small band of warriors to attack the Hall of Wisdom. They encountered resistance from Captain Randor and his officers; Keldor fought Randor personally, wielding two swords with astounding proficiency, but when Randor disarmed him, Keldor threw a vial of acid at him. Randor deflected it with his shield, and the acid splashed on Keldor's face.
Kronis, the future Trapjaw, called the retreat, and Evil-Lyn took Keldor to Hordak's sanctuary, where Keldor summoned Hordak to save his life. Keldor agreed to pay whatever price Hordak wished for his life, and Hordak transformed him, stripping the damaged tissues from his skull and dubbing him Skeletor; Keldor's head had been completely stripped of soft tissues, leaving only a floating skull. When Keldor saw his new appearance, he laughed maniacally; the incident perhaps shattering whatever sanity he had left.
Trapped in the Dark Hemisphere by the Mystic Wall, Skeletor designed a machine that would smash it, but it needed the Corodite Crystal as a power source. When Mer-Man retrieved it, Skeletor destroyed the Mystic Wall, and returned to menacing Eternia.
And that's about as clear as WikiPedia gets on the matter. The Skeletor-Hordak connection was established in the original animated series, as well, when Hordak was introduced as the primary enemy of She-Ra, and based on the planet Itheria. At some point Hordak was Skeletor's superior, and he abandoned his "pupil" on Eternia after stealing the infant Adora from King Randor and his wife and leaving Skeletor to take the rap for it. Adora, of course, is Adam's sister, and would eventually become She-Ra.
Skeletor's personality has generally been portrayed fairly consistently throughout his various media presentations -- he's evil, he doesn't have a problem with being evil, he's out for power whenever and wherever he can get it, his assorted minions are little more than cannon fodder, and heaven help anyone who gets in his way. However, there have been differences. The original Masters of the Universe animated series presented probably the most reasonable Skeletor. Certainly he was evil and would resort to just about anything in order to gain the secrets of Castle Grayskull, but on occasion, he showed something of a sense of humor, if a rather nasty one, and on a couple of occasions, even helped the good guys against a greater threat. Not too dissimilar from other major villains of toy-related animated series of the time, Skeletor's failures were often a result of his own hubris and the incompetence of his underlings as much as anything.
One can't quite imagine the 2002-era Skeletor teaming with the good guys. He was, in my opinion, far more evil, distinctly more cruel, and had far less of a sense of humor. If he laughed, it was out of cruelty as much as anything. Much like the show itself, this was an edgier Skeletor. When the Snake-Men put in their appearance in the second season, Skeletor flat-out refused to help the heroic Masters, and threatened to have them all killed just for trespassing on his lands. He would not be reasoned with.
Apparently the Skeletor from the New Adventures of He-Man series was a lunatic as much as anything. He possesses a sarcastic sense of humor and often jokes and laughs, taking his own failures much better than in the previous series. He has a genuine friendship with Crita, and works well with the other Mutants as part of their team. Though often showing a more relaxed attitude he shows that, when angered, he simply becomes a maniac and lashes out in anger at anyone around him. The voice actor says he based his portrayal of Skeletor on the Joker...
Skeletor, in any incarnation, possesses an array of mystic powers that seem to vary depending on the whims of the particular writer using him at the time, however all portray him as an extremely powerful sorcerer -- an interesting counterpoint to He-Man's more physical skills -- with control over a vast range of dark magical powers. He also possesses considerable scientific and technological skill, and is shown to have skill in creating various machines and devices.
He is usually armed with a magical weapon called the Havoc Staff; a long pole crowned with a ram's skull (and in some depictions, a crystal ball embedded within). He can discharge bolts of mystic force from the head of the staff, or use it as a focus for more powerful forms of magic.
So, how's the figure? One cannot escape the impression that this entire toy line is what Masters of the Universe has always been meant to be. The characters have an astounding diversity that is unmatched by any other toy line that readily comes to mind, and they are deserving of similarly remarkable action figure treatment. The Four Horsemen knew this, and have responded accordingly.
Skeletor, at the very least, is an indication to me that Mattel is getting some of its grievous quality control problems, which have plagued both this line as well as DC Universe Classics, another amazing action figure line that deserves only the best possible results, in order. I sincerely hope its a trend. I want to see both Masters of the Universe Classics and DC Universe Classics last for many years. One of the things that will help that is if the figures are made to the highest possible standards. Certainly the potential is there in the design.
These new Masters of the Universe Classics figures are not the broad-bodied, stumpy-bow-legged, limited articulation figures of the 1980's. Nor are they the anime-inspired editions of the 2002 era, which were much better proportioned and detailed, but tended to be rather pre-posed, and were still very limited in their articulation. No, these new Masters figures, and certainly that includes Skeletor, have it all -- they're not pre-posed, they're excellent tributes to the original line (with the occasional nod to the 2002 era), and they've got all the articulation you could ask for.
Certainly, Skeletor looks like Skeletor. There's that blue body, the eerie greenish-yellow skull face, and purple harness. They also carried over one feature from the original Skeletor that's always thrown me just a bit -- never mind the skull face, what's up with those feet!?
Skeletor has bare feet, and they're pretty strange feet. They have three clawed toes of approximate identical length. Now, of course, the toy reason for this, back in the 80's, was the economical reuse of parts. And that's being carried over into this line for nostalgia's sake (and probably economical reasons). Look for these feet next on Mer-Man. But it still doesn't quite explain them.
Skeletor's skull-like face, however alarming it might be in and of itself, is clearly human-based, whatever color skin Skeletor might have. And Skeletor's hands are reasonably normal, in that they each have four fingers and a thumb. So what's with the three-toed feet? The original animated series dodged this by giving Skeletor full boots. He could have three, five, or a dozen toes inside those and we'd never know it. The 2002 line gave the Skeletor toy bare feet, but also took the liberty of making them relatively human feet -- five toes, with a rather prominent big toe, etc.
Ultimately, there's no answer. Maybe this is what happens when you diddle around with sorcery too much. But, in fairness, it is an accurate extension of the original Skeletor figure, which these Classics figures are intended to be reasonably representative of.
Skeletor's skull-face has been designed superbly well. It looks like a plausible skull, and has been molded in green with a fair bit of yellow overbrush. This not only gives it the largely yellowish caste that it has in the original animated series, but manages to be a nice tribute to the original Skeletor, which had an almost alarmingly multi-colored skull. The eye and nose sockets have been painted black, and there are red dots in the center of the eye sockets. The yellow overbrush adds a certain rough, bony-like texture to the face, which is entirely appropriate. It's also far more accurate than the 2002 Skeletor, which was an alarming visage, but might have taken style a little too far in this instance.
Skeletor's costume accouterments, which include a chest harness, boot tops, and belt, have been molded in a dark purple. This is as it should be, and is an improvement over He-Man, whose chest harness was molded apparently in dark brown and then painted grey -- the paint could too easily be scraped off. Skeletor's loincloth is black in color, also correct.
There's not a lot of paint trim on the figure. His weird toenails are painted dark blue. Whether this is natural or not I don't know, but I'm not going to be the one to tell someone like this that he can't paint his toenails if he wants to. There's a bit of painted detail on the chest harness, and apart from the face, that's about it. But it's all neatly and effectively done.
Articulation is, of course, astounding. Skeletor is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, knees, boot tops, and ankles. The design isn't too far removed from DC Universe Classics, but what the heck, it's a good design. Use it. I don't have a problem there in the slightest.
Skeletor's accessories include his Havoc Staff, an ugly piece of work with maybe a too-well-detailed ram's skull at the top. The aforementioned crystal that sometimes appeared atop it in the animated series is not present. Skeletor also comes with one half of the Power Sword, in keeping with an early storyline, pre-animation, that He-Man and Skeletor each had one half of the Power Sword. He also has a complete Power Sword of his own, which I consider rather unusual. It's worth noting that the He-Man figure comes with the other half, of course, as well as his own complete Power Sword, which is much more tied into the concept than Skeletor having one.
The Power Sword and Power Sword half that Skeletor comes with are both nicely done, molded in purple, and given a metallic purple finish on the blade.
Unlike the original toy line, there is a character profile on the back of the package. Hasbros' G.I. Joe originated that practice. The character profile is on an image that looks like a medieval scroll, and reads as follows:
Mortally wounded in battle with his half-brother Captain Randor, Keldor turned to his dark arts master Hordak to save his life. Hordak merged Keldor with an extra-dimensional being, changing him forever into Skeletor, Overlord of Evil. He gathered together many of Eternia's greatest outcasts and evil warriors in his quest to gain entry into Castle Grayskull and obtain what he believes is the universe's ultimate power source.
Okay, so, that's interesting. We have the 2002 story component of Keldor being wounded in battle with Randor, we have official mention of the half-brother relationship, we have the established aspect of Hordak saving Keldor/Skeletor, and we even managed to throw in the early extra-dimensional aspect of Skeletor's backstory by stating that Hordak saved Keldor by merging him with an extra-dimensional being.
So what's my final word here? Well, it's doubtful that you'll be able to order Skeletor directly from MattyCollector.Com at this point. That doesn't mean he's impossible to find, just a little more difficult. And this Masters of the Universe Classics line is increasingly impressive, and Skeletor is certainly evidence that it's getting on the right track quality-wise. One can hope it continues on that course.
If you're any sort of Masters of the Universe fan, you need to be paying attention to this line. The figures look like they stepped right out of the original animated series. Even better. They have far better proportions than the originals, certainly far better articulation, and aren't as pre-posed or over-stylized as the 2002 line -- which in fairness was a pretty impressive update.
But this new line stands every chance of being the ultimate Masters of the Universe line. I hope it gets every chance to be just that, and is around for many years to come. And hey, you've gotta have Skeletor in there. The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS SKELETOR most definitely has my highest recommendation!