Reviews

MasterEnglish Customs Red Beast Man

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Image source: MasterEnglish website

I recently purchased my first custom action figure by MasterEnglish customs. As a rabid fan of the early Masters of the Universe minicomics (particularly those illustrated by Alfredo Alcala), his take on the first appearance of Beast Man inspired me to sell off a few things so I could add this savage brute to my collection.

Early appearances of MOTU characters in minicomics often draw from unfinished concept art or prototypes. Often minicomics and toys were being developed simultaneously, and there was no time to go back and modify minicomics after the toy had undergone significant changes.

In Beast Man’s first appearance in He-Man and the Power Sword, he is colored entirely red, with the exception of the yellow medallion on his chest, as well as his teeth, eyes and claws.

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That’s reflective of earlier iterations of the design, which were also dominated by red.


However, by the time the toy got released, Beast Man was given orange fur, a blue loincloth, and white and blue patterns on his face. That got reflected in later minicomics, but the change happened too late for He-Man and the Power Sword.

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Mark Taylor’s b-sheet design, published by Super7/The Power and the Honor Foundation


MaterEnglish’s custom seeks to recreate the look of the first appearance of Beast Man, using the original vintage toy sculpt. It is cast in bright red plastic, with hand-painted gold, white, yellow and black details, expertly applied. Given the amount of red on this character, a new cast is really the only way to go. Trying to slather a vintage figure in that much red paint really wouldn’t work well.

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Whatever material was used by MasterEnglish for the body, it’s very close to the look and feel of the original mass-produced made in Taiwan figure. The armor feels slightly more flexible than vintage, and the head of course is not the soft, hollow polyvinyl of the original, but I wouldn’t expect that from a custom. Unlike the late hard head releases in the original vintage line, the hard head on Red Beast Man remains as sharply detailed as the original soft head release was.

Red Beast Man does not include the original spring-loaded waist action feature, but this is again something I wouldn’t expect from a custom, hand-cast figure. The arm joints are a touch loose, but remain poseable. He comes with a red version of his signature whip, complete with red string, which is a nice touch. He is packaged on a resealable card that gets at the general feel of the original MOTU packaging without replicating it too closely.

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The back of the card shows off more vintage-style customs by MasterEnglish, including his (sadly) sold out, brilliant take on the Goddess/Sorceress character that also appeared in He-Man and the Power Sword.

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Red Beast Man works surprisingly well as an action figure, despite his monochromatic color scheme. I understand why the original designer (Mark Taylor) modified the colors of the figure before its release. Orange, red and blue work well together, and help break up the design. An almost universal design characteristic of MOTU figures is their bright complementary and contrasting colors. Still, a mostly-red Beast Man looks great in hand.

This is, of course, not the only take on a red Beast Man action figure. There are red variants of the character in the Masters of the Universe Classics line as well as the Loyal Subjects MOTU line, but I feel like the 1980s format most closely resembles the general body shape of Alcala’s depiction of the character.

 

Reviews

He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures

He-Man and She-Ra: A Complete Guide to the Classic Animated Adventures is a nearly-600 page love letter to the 1983 and 1985 Filmation He-Man and She-Ra cartoons. James Eatock, the author (the She-Ra section was co-written by Alex Hawkey) has been reviewing and researching the cartoon since at least 1997, and knows more about the series than perhaps any living person. In fact, Eatock published his own Unofficial Guide to He-Man and the Masters of the Universe back in 2010, so it’s fitting now that he has been able to publish an official guide through Dark Horse.

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The book takes an exhaustive look at each episode of the He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, offering a synopsis for each episode, a list of characters, memorable quotes, reviews, morals, deleted scenes, information on animation reuse, trivia, artwork and more. There is also a forward by storyboard artist and writer Robert Lamb, as well as some information on abandoned episodes.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for these cartoons. I remember well the power struggles over control of the TV when I was a kid. My big sisters would always steer us toward episodes of Three’s Company, Different Strokes, The Monkees or Gilligan’s Island, but when I had a choice, I would always be watching He-Man.

Having said that, the Filmation cartoons have never been the focus of my own research in this blog. My research interests lie mainly in the development of the toys and packaging and comics. So for me, the book is actually a godsend. Anything I could possibly want to know about any episode in the series seems to have already been uncovered by Eatock and Hawkey (or if it hasn’t, it’s probably unknowable).

The book is called a guide, and it works very well in that capacity. I’ve found that the best way to digest this book is to read about an episode and then go immediately watch it, so you can catch all the behind the scenes facts and surprising connections across the series.

One of my favorite things about the book is all the marvelous artwork (in fact, I think a sequel that focuses entirely on artwork would be warranted, particularly rarer pieces from the animated commercial and Filmation’s highly detailed backgrounds). Dušan Mitrović illuminates the black and white character model sheets with colors that are authentic to the look of the series:

There is a great deal of development artwork in the book, including some lovely pieces by Fred Carrillo, known primarily among fans for his work illustrating many of the Golden Books series of He-Man stories:

Eatock’s enthusiasm for the series is infectious, and even non-Filmation fans will find themselves being drawn into the depths of the series through the eyes of the author. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a fan of the cartoon, this book is a must-own.

Reviews

Hammer of the Gods: The Bearer and the Burden

Masters of the Universe was a unique blend of classic barbarian sword and sorcery high adventure crossed with the high-tech drama of Flash Gordon and Star Wars, with a splash of color and gimmickry to make it irresistible to six-year-olds. So what happens if you take Masters of the Universe and peel away the science fiction elements while keeping the colorful characters? You get something very much like The Bearer and the Burden, a new He-Man inspired minicomic from Hammer of the Gods.

The world of Hammer of the Gods is not simply Masters of the Universe minus the techno-gadgetry, however. He-Man bears the unmistakable influence of Conan the Barbarian, but He-Man’s morals were totally different. He-Man was always a selfless protector, even from his earliest “savage” minicomic days. Conan, driven mostly by id, was ever looking out for number one, even if he grudgingly got pulled into solving other people’s problems.

Punch-Out, the protagonist of Hammer of the Gods, splits the difference between the He-Man and Conan – that is to say, he is a tireless protector of the innocent, but he is frequently driven by ego.

In that way, Punch-Out is also a little like Dagar the Invincible. He-Man is perhaps a bit closer to Larn from Fire and Ice.

The Bearer and the Burden was written by Hammer of the Gods creator Walter Harris, and illustrated by Daniele Danbrenus Spezzani. Harris is best known for his custom HOTG and Thundarr the Barbarian action figures. Danbrenus, as he is known online, is known for his original minicomic illustrations done in the style of the legendary comic book artist, Alfredo Alcala. (Alcala actually worked on both He-Man and Conan, among other properties.) Danbrenus, like Alcala, works in inks and water colors rather than digital media, and the extra effort toward greater authenticity really pays off here.

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From Danbrenus’ The Triumph of Skeletor

The Bearer and the Burden is formatted like the original “adventure books” (illustrated by Alfredo Alcala) that came packaged with the first wave of He-Man figures. Each page has a single illustration and about 75 words of text at the bottom. Unlike conventional comic books, there are no word balloons.

We begin with Punch-Out, whose real name is Cestus, a gladiator fighting to win his freedom. Already we see a tonal shift away from the kid-friendly He-Man comics, as Cestus is pictured holding the severed head of one of his opponents.

decap2In his post-gladiatorial life, Cestus relentlessly seeks purpose by throwing himself into danger, in a sequence with some amusing nods to Tarzan and Indiana Jones. The comic doesn’t take itself too seriously, but the humor is subtle enough that it doesn’t take the reader out of the story or erase the stakes in our hero’s journey.

When I say hero’s journey, I mean that quite literally. The Bearer is a pretty textbook example of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth in action, which is why I think it works so well.

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Meanwhile, a dark threat surrounding rumors of a demonic sorcerer (Wrath Azuhl, the Skeletor to Punch-Out’s He-Man) and his cultic followers begins to grow. The Monks of Axis Mundi, who guard a legendary weapon forged by the gods, identify Cestus as the champion worthy to wield the Hammer of the Gods.

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Through an intensely painful process, Cestus is fused with the Hammer, which is a metal gauntlet and sleeve imbued with divine magic. Now endowed with power from the gods, Punch-Out, as he is now called by the monks, goes to train with his new weapon. Of course, it doesn’t take long before the inevitable conflict with Wrath Azuhl and his colorful minions.

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Incidentally, if there is something familiar about Punch-Out, it’s because the action figure he’s based on is made up of parts from an Apollo Creed figure, as well as bits from Man-At-Arms, Fisto, Trap-Jaw and Roboto.

I don’t want to spoil the climax or the ending, as the comic just went on sale. I will say that I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading The Bearer and the Burden, but I was pulled into the story from the first couple of pages onward. It’s a well-balanced blend of classic sword and sorcery story-telling with just enough pulpiness and humor to keep things fun. Harris’ skillful narration combined with Danbrenus’ charming Alcala-esque illustrations make for a very enjoyable read. Fans of Masters of the Universe will get what this is about instantly, and those familiar with the vintage minicomics will be delighted with the little Easter eggs that Danbrenus has left for them.