REVIEW: SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON EXCLUSIVE: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS VYKRON
The annual San Diego Comic-Con can be a fascinating place to find new, interesting, and exclusive toys -- most of which, thankfully, become available, if on a limited basis, through other means at some point after the Convention.
Such is the case with this year's Masters of the Universe Classics exclusive, a character named VYKRON, who became available shortly after the Convention on Mattel's online "MattyCollector.Com" Web Site.
So, what makes Vykron, who is described on his package as the "Ultimate Eternian Champion", so distinctive? Well, he comes with a rather extensive wardrobe, which allows him to be dressed up (for lack of a better term) as either a barbarian warrior, a spaceman, or -- well, something resembling a military soldier. I'll get into that over the course of the review.
That's quite the combination. Makes one wonder if what we have here is the "Ultimate Eternian Champion", a master of disguise, or somebody with a fairly serious identity crisis.
The question, of course, must be asked -- where did Vykron come from? There was no such character in the original Masters of the Universe action figure line, or in any of its sequels. Who is this guy, and why does he have three different outfits? There's a hint, interestingly enough, on the outer white box that contains the actual packaging for Vykron and the figure and his wardrobe. I sort of get the impression it was supposed to be on the internal box, and somebody forgot. It reads, "Based on the Original He-Man Trio Prototypes!" Now, some of you might be asking, "The what!?" For the answer to that, we need to look way back into the very beginnings and history of the Masters of the Universe concept itself.
Something that must be kept in mind is this: At the time, Mattel didn't exactly have a reputation as a maker of action figures. Their top products were Barbie fashion dolls and Hot Wheels die-cast cars, two product lines which continue to be immensely popular to this day.
It can be fairly said that Hasbro largely came up with the concept of "action figures" with the original 12" G.I. Joe in the early 1960's. G.I. Joe's contemporaries pretty much amounted to Captain Action, which was a product of the Ideal Toy Corporation, and was a 12" cloth-costumed figure that could be dressed up as various licensed super-heroes; and "Best of the West", which was produced by Marx Toys, and was a western-themed line of figures that had plastic-molded clothing and other accessories.
Mattel countered in the 1960's with Major Matt Mason. This was a 6" "bendie" line -- a largely solid but flexible figure with a wire skeleton underneath the astronaut suit. With the "space race" in full swing, capturing the public's attention, a line of reasonably realistic astronaut action figures was bound to be popular, and indeed it was. Moreover, at 6" in size, it was possible to create a wide range of vehicles and accessories for Major Matt Mason and his allies, and this was also done.
In the 1970's, Hasbro's G.I. Joe fell out of favor, much as the real-world military did, and both Captain Action and Best of the West had also run their course. As, for that matter, had Major Matt Mason. Once we actually made it to the moon, public interest waned.
The king of the action figure world in the 1970's was Mego. Their 8", cloth-costumed figures revitalized the action figure market, and Mego managed to secure very nearly every license in existence. DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Wizard of Oz -- about the only lines they didn't lock down were the popular Six Million Dollar Man, and the unknown quantity known as Star Wars. Both were acquired by Kenner.
With G.I. Joe and the military in general increasingly unpopular, Mattel came up with their second action figure hit -- Big Jim, a 10" action figure who was not a soldier. He was an athlete and an adventurer. You could buy any number of sports uniforms and accessories for him, and later, he formed his own team of special agents called the P.A.C.K. The line enjoyed a healthy run throughout the mid to late 1970's, and continued in Europe well into the 1980's.
By the early 1980's, Mego was on its last legs, Kenner was ruling the roost with Star Wars, Hasbro was just about to restart G.I. Joe as a 3-3/4" action figure line and pretty well change the playing field forever, and Mattel wanted -- something. And here we see the start of Masters of the Universe.
In the race to design the next hit action figure, Roger Sweet, a lead designer working for Mattel's Preliminary Design Department throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s, realized simplicity was the key to success. According to his book "Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea", published in 2005, Sweet knew that if he gave marketing something they could sell, he'd won 90% of the battle:
"The only way I was going to have a chance to sell this [to Mattel CEO Ray Wagner] was to make three 3D models—big ones. I glued a Big Jim figure into a battle action pose and I added a lot of clay to his body. I then had plaster casts made. These three prototypes, which I presented in late 1980, brought He-Man into existence.
"I simply explained that this was a powerful figure that could be taken anywhere and dropped into any context because he had a generic name: He-Man!"
Originally, He-Man was presented in drawings and wax sculptures to the Mattel executives as a barbarian, a soldier, and a spaceman. Out of the three concepts, the barbarian version was chosen to be the basis of the toyline.
To further expand on this initial barbarian theme, Mattel hired comic book writers and artists such as Donald F. Glut and Earl Norem to create additional characters and their backstory, posters, package inlays, box art and mini-comics to be distributed with the action figures.
The very first prototype He-Man was black haired with a deeply tanned eastern European or Middle Eastern appearance. His helmet had no horns. Later, at the direction of Tom Kalinske, then in Mattel's upper management, He-Man was made more clean-cut and changed to a blond... Plus, He-Man's skin was lightened, though definitely still tanned.
The rest, is toy history. Masters of the Universe showed up right about the same time as Hasbro's G.I. Joe, and the Transformers followed not too long after, and the three lines are generally regarded as the top action figure lines of the 1980's.
He-Man and the Masters of the Universe also broke new ground in the media. Mattel wanted an animated series, but the networks wanted nothing to do with it. So Mattel and Filmation attempted something that really hadn't been done before with a cartoon -- they went for first run syndication. Please remember that this was in the days well before 300 cable channels. If you weren't on the networks, you had to try to get syndicated to local stations, and as far as cartoons were concerned, what was playing there were mostly decades-old reruns of the Flintstones and Yogi Bear.
It not only worked, it worked superbly well, and paved the way for countless entertaining animated programs for the rest of the decade, including G.I. Joe, Transformers, MASK, ThunderCats, She-Ra (!), Spiral Zone, Centurions -- you get the idea.
But it still all started out with three possible choices for the main character... a barbarian, a soldier, and a spaceman. And those three choices have been brought into the modern Masters of the Universe Classics line in the form of Vykron, certainly warranting becoming this year's San Diego Comic-Con exclusive!
So, how's the figure? Well, he's certainly -- diverse! The figure comes packaged dressed as one of his forms, and the other two costume-accessory sets are packaged alongside him in a long box. Let's consider each version of Vykron separately.
BARBARIAN VYKRON - Probably the most basic version of the figure, since Vykron in his most basic form has the traditional furry loincloth and leather-like boots with furry tops. And yet we do have a slight conceptual conflict to deal with here.
A while back, Mattel introduced a character into the Masters of the Universe Classics line named VIKOR. This was, technically speaking, a figure based on one of the early sketches of He-Man. This sketch was given a different name, Vikor, and was given a backstory that he was a He-Man from an earlier age, before the He-Man we know how.
Nevertheless, how to reconcile Vikor's likeness with Vykron? Fortunately, Vikor was based, so I've been told, on a slightly later sketch, before He-Man took on the image that we all know him as now. Vikor still had long dark hair, and a distinctly barbarian look about him, which was toned down somewhat for the final likeness of He-Man, but he wasn't the first take on the character. The barbarian version of Vykron goes back a bit further.
The head is an interesting piece of work. Since the face has to be used for both the barbarian and spaceman versions of Vykron, the head is little more than the face, with a hole in the base to mount in on the neck, and a tab in the top to attach either the barbarian or spaceman helmets.
The face looks something like He-Man, just as Vikor does. It's not an exact likeness, certainly, but there's a definite resemblance. Vykron has perhaps somewhat more prominent cheekbones and jaw, and an angrier brow. He definitely looks heroic enough, though, with blue eyes and a determined expression to his face.
His helmet is a rather odd piece of work. It's metallic pewter in color, with a ring of ornate patterning around the base and some sort of red gemstone in the middle. After a sort of "inverted bowl"-like beginning, the helmet tapers upwards to a sort of flat knob at the top. As much as anything, this gives Vykron's helmet a certain resemblance to an upside-down wine goblet that's lost part of its base.
The other portion of the helmet is Vykron's hair, which is black and of moderate length. It's slightly longer than He-Man's, but it's nowhere near as long as Vikor's.
Vykron's basic garments, that is, those that the figure is wearing as part of his structure, come most into play here, and consist, as I mentioned earlier, of a standard brown loincloth, with a pewter gray belt; brown leather-like boots with gray furry tops, and brown gloves with ornate pewter wristbands with red gemstones on them. The wristbands, and as such the lower arms of the figure, are distinctive to this particular character.
The rest of Vykron's costume in his barbarian mode consists of a leather-like brown harness, with ornamentation on it similar to He-Man's own, the back of which is designed to look like a short furry cape; and leg protectors that snap over the fronts of his boots. These, like his wristbands, belt, and helmet, are pewter in color, and have a certain amount of decoration on the fronts, with what look like blue gemstones.
The chest harness is NOT an easy fit. The tabs in the furry cape into which the lower straps of the harness are supposed to snap are an extremely tight fit, making me wonder just a bit if Mattel took the tendency of plastic to shrink a bit as it dries and settles into sufficient consideration here. It's not impossible to get it properly in placed, but you'll probably say a few things that He-Man wouldn't likely approve of in the process.
Each version of Vykron also comes with a distinctive weapon, and in the case of his barbarian incarnation, it's a large and rather ornate axe.
Of the three modes, I think I like the barbarian version the best. It fits the concept the best. I just wish the harness fit the figure a little more easily.
SPACEMAN VYKRON - I suspect there's a certain irony here, given that the second attempted incarnation of the He-Man characters, colloquially known as the "New Adventures of He-Man", actually did send He-Man and Skeletor into a much more sci-fi type setting than the original line.
However, given the timing of the line, I think it's just as well that the original Masters of the Universe line didn't go in that direction. In 1983, it probably would've gotten its spacefaring hindquarters handed to it by the third movie in the original Star Wars Trilogy and that would've been the end of that.
Spaceman's Vykron costume, to me, has a certain retro look to it that goes back well past the 70's. More like the 60's, if not a little further. It's cool, but it wouldn't get him any time on a Star Trek series, and he might be hard-pressed to even do a fly-by on the Jetsons.
The costume features a helmet, which is pale gray with orange trim (the color scheme for the entire outfit, by the way), which looks like a cross between a Clone Trooper helmet, and what Magneto wears in the X-Men comics. It is designed to have the head used with the barbarian version of Vykron inserted into it and then the entire assembly attached to the neck.
There are boot and glove coverings, that do an effective enough job concealing the bulk of the more barbarian-oriented gloves and boots that are part of the figure. These are mostly orange with some gray trim.
Then there's the belt and the chest harness. Wow. They look cool enough. The belt is pale gray, with definitely a sort of "retro-future" look to it, and the harness is mostly orange, with a high collar, some copper detailing, and wide shoulder flares.
And unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to get it on the figure. The chest harness is like a vest. It has to be pulled over the figure's arms from behind. That part works okay. But then, you're supposed to snap it into two tabs on the front of the belt, and then snap the belt in the back.
Good luck. I don't know if it wasn't measured properly or what, but I have yet to succeed at this. Maybe I'm just not doing something right, and some of you other collectors have managed to achieve it. For me, part of the problem is that the plastic used is just a little too flexible to really be used for a snap-and-tab combination. And yet at the same time, it's not flexible enough to be stretched a bit to properly fit.
To the degree that it can be put into place, it actually looks fairly cool. Then there's the backpack that attaches to the back of the harness. It has two small jets, angled, ridged wings, and something protruding from the top that looks like a missile, although it is not removable.
On the whole, the ensemble isn't bad, if perhaps just a little corny-looking by modern sci-fi standards. And this version of Vykron also comes with a very cool-looking ray gun. I just wish it fit better on the figure.
SOLDIER VYKRON - Yes -- well -- hmm. Okay. If this was really what was intended back when the initial designs were drawn up for possible directions for the line, then I think we Masters fans should all be very glad that He-Man went the way he did, and left the soldiering to G.I. Joe, because if Mattel had produced something like this back in the early 80's, with Hasbro's brand-new Real American Hero coming out at right about the same time, I think He-Man would've found his way to the clearance bins faster than you could say "Yo, Joe!"
The most ridiculous aspect of this is the head. Now, one might think that the same basic head that was used for the barbarian and spaceman incarnations of Vykron would also be used for the soldier version, maybe with a more soldier-like helmet.
Uh-uh. It's an entirely different head. It's this olive dram, squared-off, rather robotic-looking head that looks like a condensed car grill on the front, with two narrow white robotic eyes, and the top of the head is actually a tank turret with a gun barrel pointing forward from it. The letters "I-X" are imprinted on the right side.
A tank -- as a helmet. Or more precisely, a head. Honestly, it looks exactly as silly as it sounds.
Soldier Vykron has a chestplate that is the same dark olive drab in color, and looks like military armor plating. This is actually a nicely made piece and doesn't really look bad, except the two white details on front with the little black dots in them make it look just a little too much like squared-off eyes that are staring at you. This aside, it's the best piece in the entire ensemble.
There is no lower torso protection, so the soldier version of Vykron is left wearing the same basic loincloth as the barbarian version.
He does, however, have gauntlet and boot coverings. These are also dark olive green, and the gauntlets have silver stars at their tops. The boots are a little excessive, with a certain oversized Japanese flair to them, like whoever designed these was trying to throw a little Transformers into the G.I. Joe. They're nicely sculpted and detailed, if a bit preposterous, and have silver stars with circles stenciled on their sides.
Ironically, the silliest costume of the three is the easiest fit. I had no trouble getting the chestplate on the figure, and the gauntlets, boots, and even the head secure to the figure very easily. As for a weapon, the soldier version of Vykron comes with a rifle. It's probably one of the most plausibly realistic gun-type weapons I've ever seen in the Masters of the Universe line, even though I don't believe it is based on any actual real-world rifle.
Now, let me make two comments about this version of Vykron. The Masters of the Universe line over the years has produced a wide range of different character types. Its diversity in doing so is far greater than either G.I. Joe, which has maintained, to one degree or another, something of a real world, or at least plausible, semi-military setting for its characters, or Transformers, which has been all about the robots.
Masters of the Universe has managed a robot or two. It's managed a wide range of characters and creatures. Ninjas, beast men, barbarians, spacemen, animal-men of a wide range of species. And while it could be argued that characters such as Man-At-Arms and the Eternian guard represented the military as Eternia knew it, there was never really a Masters of the Universe character that looked specifically like a real-world Earth-type soldier. If the soldier version of Vykron is really what was originally conceived, there was probably a good reason for that.
However, I would like to say something in this version of Vykron's defense. There would be ways to do an effective soldier-type figure for Masters of the Universe, that looked like a soldier as we on Earth tend to perceive them, and get away with it. Lose the tank head and the armor, sculpt a head with a crew-cut, get him a camouflage uniform, and you might just have something, although writing an origin story for him might be a good trick.
The problem is -- it's not something that could really be done in this particular set. Not and stay within whatever the budget constraints were, I suspect. Those likely allowed for a few attachments on a basic figure, which wasn't really designed to look like a soldier in the first place. Mattel and the Four Horsemen did the best they could, and in fairness, the parts are all nicely designed and well-detailed. It's the limitations mixed with the concept that just didn't quite work here.
Now, we need to know one thing further about Vykron. What sort of backstory does one come up with for a character that has three distinct appearances? For that, we turn to the scroll-like bio card printed on the package.
VYKRON - ULTIMATE ETERNIAN CHAMPION
Fifty years before Prince Adam was born, Vykron the Warrior fought in the gladiatorial arena of Lord Choloh, ruler of the Vine Jungle. Learning from each defeated opponent, he became a master of many combat techniques and weapons. As much a champion as a showman, he would often dress in outlandish garb to rouse the crowd and show off his skills. In his final match, he fought against the great Gygor. Before a cheering crowd, the evil fighting gorilla ripped Vykron's body in half - at long last defeating the arena champion. Following this match, Gygor claimed not only the arena championship but rule of the Jungle itself, forcing Choloh to abdicate his throne. In life, Vykron was the greatest of Choloh's gladiatorial warriors, fighting in any environment at any time.
"Outlandish" -- there's a good word for that soldier get-up.
Still, that last battle -- ouch. I mean, was that really necessary? Can we get a happy ending here once in a while?
So, what's my final word? Okay, at least one of these costumes is more than a bit peculiar, and there are some fit problems with the other two. However, Vykron is a very cool figure, and there's no reason you can't play mix-and-match with him a bit. Right now I've got him wearing his barbarian helmet and the soldier chestplate. It's his easiest outfit.
More to the point, Vykron represents an important aspect of the earliest days of the Masters of the Universe concept, when it hadn't yet been decided which road He-Man would travel down. Ultimately, I think He-Man picked the right one, but I'm glad that those options have been given new life in the line through Vykron. For any long-time Masters of the Universe fan who's interested in the history of the line and the concept, this is not somebody that you want to pass up.
The MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE CLASSICS SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON exclusive figure of VYKRON -- and his extensive wardrobe -- definitely has my highest recommendation!