#1009: Castle Grayskull




Playsets for action figures are by and large a thing of the past. They were really big in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and even kept up steam for a good part of the ’90s, but a general trending towards less interest in action figures coupled with rising costs of plastics has made them less than practical. Sure, you still see the occasional set here and there, but they lack the charm of the older sets. Occasionally, an attempt is made at recapturing that charm for a more collector-oriented market. A few years back, Mattel used their online store Matty Collector to get enough backers to fund a high(ish)-end version of Castle Grayskull, an important part of the He-Man mythos. This not a review of that. Nope, this is a review of its direct predecessor. Well, most of it anyway. Let’s get to the review!


Grayskull7Castle Grayskull was released as a deluxe playset during the first year of the 2002 Masters of the Universe line. The Castle is designed to fit with the basic 6-inch figures Mattel offered. It’s actually about half-scale. In its defense, even the much larger, much more expensive Castle Grayskull was only three-quarter-scale, and that one wasn’t even vying for valuable retail shelf space. As it is, it’s definitely undersized, but it’s large enough that it suits the purpose it was built for pretty well. The Castle is just about 20 Grayskull2inches tall and 17 inches wide. When the Castle is all folded up, it’s only about 4 inches deep. The exterior of the Castle is pretty impressively detailed, and features a very nice selection of textures, which keep it exciting. Well, for a non-mobile playset anyway. The overall look, though undersized, is a very nice translation of the Castle’s 200x design. As you can probably note from the pictures, the parapets are made up of several Grayskull3different pieces, which clip into place. They were prone to fall off, which is why my set is missing a couple of them. The Castle can unfold, which reveals the interior and increases the depth of the set to 11 inches. The interior of the Castle isn’t quite as nice as the exterior, since it has to fit inside when folded. Still, there are several very nice details, including a spot for weapon storage and even a neat little computer thingy in the corner. I also love the small, easy to overlook details, like the skull and rat on the floor in the prison cell area. For some reason, in the 2000s, toy Grayskull5companies thought that the best way to sell a playset was to work in some weird battery-operated, figure prompted gimmick. Remember the ThunderLynx bit from the Tower of Omens? Well, Castle Grayskull’s got something like that. Each of the figures in the 200x Masters line (well, at least the earlier ones) had a little…thingy imbedded in their foot, which was expressly designed to work with this set. There are several spots on the set where there’s a golden footprint. When a figure’s foot was Grayskull9moved back and forth on this spot, it would release a lever on a door, revealing differing parts of the set or activating traps. Most of them are a little weird and gimmicky, but I do quite like the one on the upper level, which swings open a door revealing a special chrome version of the power sword placed on a nice little pedestal. It’s still really gimmicky, but, c’mon! Chrome! In addition to the aforementioned chrome sword, the Castle included a flag (missing Grayskull6from mine), a big cannon sort of thing, a set of shackles, bars for a cell (also missing), a giant key (because why not?), as well as a large arsenal of weapons, of which I only have the trident. Still, that was a pretty awesome selection of extras, especially given the kind of extras we see nowadays.


By the time of the 200x Masters line, I had aged out of playsets. Yeah, I know, it shocks me too. Aging out of toys. I was just about aged back into collecting playsets when Mattel’s collector version was released, but it was just far too hefty a price for a moderate Masters fan such as myself. Of course, this more economical set had also gone up quite a bit in price. As you might have guessed (or just have already known, for those of you who paid attention to my Teela review), the Castle was part of the big Goodwill find from several weeks back. I ended up spotting this particular set first, and upon discovering it was only $4.50, I felt like I couldn’t say no. Sure, it’s not complete, but it was also super cheap, and it’s actually a really fun set. It’s too bad I never got one when they were new!

Side Note: This set was far too large for my usual photo set-up, so this is the first item to be shot in the Auxiliary Photo Studio (aka the dining room). As it turns out, the Auxiliary Photo Studio takes two people to operate, so special thanks goes out to Super Awesome Girlfriend, who aided with most of the photos you see here!


#1006: Battle Tank




Masters of the Universe was one of the pinnacles of ’80s toylines.  It had all the trappings: gimmicky figures, wacky action features, play sets, and, yes, lots of vehicles for the figures to make use of.  The vehicles were a success in the ’80s, so Mattel gave them another try with the 200x relaunch.  They weren’t quite as successful that time around, but they certainly tried.  Today, I’ll be looking at one of those vehicles, the somewhat mediocre Battle Tank.  Let’s have a look at that!


BattleTank3The BattleTank was one of the earliest vehicles in the 200x line, released during the line’s first year.  The vehicle measures 9 ¾ inches long and 6 ½ inches tall.  The Battle Tank is somewhat oddly named.  It looks more like some sort of ramming vehicle and less like what I would think of as a tank.  Of course, I suppose that a more conventional tank might look out of place in Masters of the Universe, so there’s that.  Still, I feel like there could have been a more exciting name for this thing.  As far as the actual sculpt goes, I suppose the tank’s not bad.  It’s a bit rudimentary and clunky, but it’s serviceable.  I think the biggest issue I have with it is how it interacts with the BattleTank2figures.  Their limited articulation means that any vehicle meant for them has to do the heavy lifting in terms of helping them sit.  The tank would be difficult for even a Marvel Legend to sit on comfortably.  The MotU figures look rather uncomfortable, and they all have to do this weird sort of lounging lean.  It’s not exactly an imposing look.  The tank has a pop-out feature, which launches the head forward and flips out two little wing things at the sides, which makes it somewhat cooler looking, but also makes it even less tank-like. There’s not really any paint on the tank, but there are a lot of decals which make up for it. They’re kind of basic, but they look okay.  They stay on pretty well, which is the important part with decals.  The Battle Tank was packed with a basic He-Man, who was the same as the standard Series 1 version, which I suppose isn’t a bad thing, but a unique figure might have been a little cooler.


I’ve never been much into the MotU vehicles, so I never had any of them.  This one was part of the Goodwill find from a few weeks ago.  I found this last out of the bunch, and I honestly only got it because I felt bad leaving it there by itself.  Island of Misfit toys and all that.  I can’t say it was my favorite piece of the find, but it’s enjoyable enough, and certainly worth what I paid for it.  All in all, not bad.


#1003: Battle Cat




Masters of the Universe leans pretty hard on classical fantasy tropes. One of those tropes was the inclusion of steeds that were something other than a horse. The first animals inducted into the original Masters line were feline beasts, one for each side’s leader. Skeletor and the Evil Warriors got Panthor, and He-Man and the Heroic Warriors had Battle Cat, who’s the focus of today’s review.


BattleCat3Battle Cat was released as a deluxe item alongside the first series of Masters of the Universe figures. He and Panthor were released at the same time. The figure stands about 3 ½ inches tall and is about 9 inches from nose to tail. The vintage Battle Cat didn’t feature any articulation, but the 2002 version changes things up a bit, giving him joints at the top of each leg and a swivel joint on the tail. There’s also a button on the figure’s back which, when pressed, swings the right front leg forward and opens the mouth. So, he’s still not super posable, but certainly an improvement over earlier figures.  Battle Cat makes use of four different add-ons for his armor. The torso piece is strapped into place, while he helmet and toe guards just snap into place. All of the pieces are very nicely sculpted, with lots of fun details that add a little bit of depth to the armor. In addition, the pieces all stay in place pretty securely, which is a definite plus. The underlying body is decently sculpted. Obviously, the areas left exposed by the armor are given the most detailing, but the face is surprisingly well detailed, despite being covered by the faceplate. The paintwork on Battle Cat is rather on the minimal size. For the most part, the colors are done via molded plastic with only the stripes and the eyes and mouth being actually painted. The stripes could possibly be a little cleaner, but other than that, the figure looks pretty good. In addition to the armor pieces, Battle Cat also included a pair of missile launching cannons, which could be attached to the shoulder armor. They were, however, not the slightest bit accurate to the show’s armor design.


I never had a Battle Cat growing up. For whatever reason he was never my thing. I did want a Panthor, but never got one (I eventually got the MotUC version, so that’s a win for me). I ended up getting Battle Cat just a few weeks ago, at the same time as Teela. Mostly, I got him because he was $2, which I feel is just about always a good reason to get an action figure. Battle Cat was an improvement upon a figure than needed quite a bit of improving. That makes him a decent figure, but hardly anything stellar. Still, when paired with the He-Man from the same line, this figure does manage to look pretty darn awesome, and that’s more than worth the $2 I paid.


#1001: He-Man




In this day and age, action figures are almost exclusively a licensing game. Due to rising costs and falling demand, completely original toylines just aren’t worth the risk, which is really a shame. There was a time when the big companies were known for their own properties. Hasbro had G.I. Joe (and technically Transformers, though that one’s a bit complicated) and Mattel had Barbie. Mattel had also wanted to tap into the boys market, first trying with the moderately successful Big Jim, before striking it big with Masters of the Universe. Unfortunately for Mattel, Masters didn’t really find success any time after the early-to-mid-80s. They’ve still done their best to keep the line alive. They’re second attempt at bringing it back was in 2002, which was where I came in. Today, I’ll be looking at that line’s first version of the main guy, He-Man!


HeMan200x2He-Man was released in the first series of Mattel’s re-launched Masters of the Universe line. The prototype and early shipments of the figure sported an iron cross logo (just like the vintage He-Man had), but later figures (such as mine) had the H-style logo from the 2002 cartoon. He-Man stands a little over 6 inches tall and he has 12 points of articulation. It’s worth noting that this figure was shipping at around the same time as the first series of Marvel Legends, so the articulation wasn’t the most stellar. Still, it’s better than the vintage figures had, so that’s a small win. The sculpt for He-Man (and the entire 200x MotU line) was handled by Four Horsemen Studios. The design is very angular and definitely is a product of its time, but it holds up. Despite Mattel’s penchant for re-use, He-Man’s sculpt was never used for anyone other than He-Man, and this figure was the first one to have it. It’s certainly a nice sculpt. The harness is a separate piece, which can be removed if one so chooses, so that’s cool. The paintwork on He-Man isn’t anything amazing, but it’s solid. The details are all pretty clean, and the hair even has some nice accent work. It would be nice if some of that accent work had ended up a few other spots, but it’s not horrible. He-Man included his sword of power (which could have the guard turned like on the show), a shield, and an axe. The sword can be stowed in the back of the harness, as can the axe and shield, if you’re patient.


I wasn’t familiar with anything Masters of the Universe until Cartoon Network aired the first few episodes of the 2002 cartoon as a movie to kick off the series. After seeing the movie, I immediately wanted a He-Man. Unfortunately, it aired a little after the early shipments of figures had hit, which made finding a He-Man a little difficult. My Dad drove me to several different stores with no luck, but I eventually found him at a Target. I really liked the figure at the time. I don’t know that he’s one of my favorites now, but he certainly isn’t bad, and I can’t deny he’s a cool looking figure.