Friday, November 5, 2010

InAction Figures in Action: Requiem for a Villain

THE greatest new toy of 1982!
Great heroes need great villains.  A hero is measured by his deeds and in order to do great deeds that hero needs a villain who is every bit as vile as the hero is heroic.  The clash of these two diametrically opposed titans is what draws us into the action and makes us tune in, week after week, month after month, book after book.  Superman has Luthor.  Batman has the Joker.  A hero with lame, second rate villains is often mocked.  By all rights Skeletor, from the Masters of the Universe, should have been one of the greatest villains of all time, and yet he was played false and sold short by Mattel.  Today I examine this ‘could have been’ great in all his plastic glory.

Set the WABAC Machine for 1982…

A young boy shuffles through a local retail store with his mother and grandmother.  Like most young boys he’d rather be elsewhere or at least in the toy section.  Eventually the party makes its way to the toy section and there on an end cap is the first wave of a new toy line from Mattel: Masters of the Universe.  Immediately the boy is drawn to the colorful plastic figures and rushes forward to investigate.  Almost immediately after that he begins the begging/barter process whereby the boy promises all sorts of things that are simply not true in order to obtain a toy.  The mother and grandmother relent and he chooses the single coolest figure on the rack, a blue-bodied, claw-footed, skeleton faced Skeletor…
But he does not go home with this gem, oh no.  Young boys and mothers/grandmothers rarely share the same sense of aesthetics it would seem.  A red-blooded young man is immediately drawn to skulls, monsters, and scenes of rock and roll carnage.  Mothers may be drawn to these things, but not this mother.  The ladies ‘convinced’ the young boy that he would prefer the blonde-haired, nearly naked, Aryan wet-dream “hero” called He-Man.  He-Man?  HE-MAN?!?
Unfortunately this had the effect of distracting the young boy and after reading the accompanying comic book that came with the figure he was happy with the purchase.  It took a few years to get Skeletor and by that time Filmation has produced a cartoon (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) that made Skeletor seem a simpleton, fool, and worst manager in history.

Here is an example of Skeletor’s management style:
In the desert of Eternia there lies a gem that will allow the possessor to control the entire world.  This item is in the deepest, hottest, most inhospitable part of the desert.  Who, from his vast selection of loyal minions will Skeletor send?
The monkey and the fish-man, that’s who.
Team A, you will be Desert Strike Force Code Name "Poor Choice"
I need to re-iterate here, there will be no water and no trees.  Skeletor will send the monkey and the fish-man every time.  Despite having minions better suited for the task.  Why not send the spitting cobra and the lizard?
Team B, you will be my Snow Serpents!  Now get out there and find my weapons!
Why not send the cyborg and the robot?
Ah, Team C, to the Sea!  Get it?  It's a pun, an Evil Pun!
It’s because at the same time that he needs the desert gem he needs someone to collect a rare clam from the oceans of Eternia and he sent the cyborg and the robot to the bottom of the sea an hour ago for it.  And the reptile people?  They are at the Northern Pole of Eternia, hip deep in snow and ice with the naked yellow chick looking for the lost technology of the ancients. 
All jokes about this woman being 'frigid' are officially in poor taste
He’s just a bad leader is what I’m saying.
And he blames others for his failings.  Honestly, even with the Orko factor handicapping He-Man’s team, Skeletor is consistently calling the wrong plays for the bad guys.
Is that the sort of villain a hero should be facing, the sort of villain that beats himself?
The original packaging gave the characters, the “masters” of the universe titles, such as Savage Henchman for Beast Man or Master of Weapons for Man-At-Arms.  Skeletor’s title was Lord of Destruction!  So again, looking at the toy-based evidence alone we have 1) skull for a face; 2) buff physique; 3) evil clawed bird feet; 4) satanic ram skull staff; 5) pseudo-Roman bone armor; 6) Lord of Destruction!
You really have to expand this to appreciate the effort
How is this guy not the most badass villain ever?
He is the barbarian fantasy equivalent of Doctor Doom, Thanos and Darkseid all rolled into one.  It simply was not the case, however, due to the Filmation cartoons.  In the minicomics that came with the figures Skeletor started out as a competent and interesting villain, but once the cartoon debuted and proved popular the character suffered. 
Anyone familiar with toys will not be surprised to learn that Mattel made multiple variants of Skeletor and He-Man over the years (although thankfully these did not appear in the cartoons) including Battle Armor Skeletor (pretty cool really) with a neat ‘battle damage’ effect and the extremely lame Laser Light Skeletor who is just crap.
This might be the worst toy ever made.  It looks like it was shat into existence.
In 2002 Mattel released a new, updated line of MotU toys (there was a cartoon again) with new sculpts by the Four Horsemen (  The Skeletor from that line was nothing short of righteous.  Here was the character that we had all dreamed of in the 80’s.  Since any RPG gamer realizes that Skeletor is essentially a lich and that liches are the number one, A, top-level, all time most badass of the undead, this is the Skeletor we deserved.
Have a look at him: leering skull for a face, muscled physique, ram-skull staff, strange boney armor; this guy looks like he means business.
This is a thing of beauty, it is.  So many colors, so much detail, 5 toes per foot...
The updated Skeletor was less the simpering, whiney fool of his previous cartoon incarnations and seemed more comfortable using powerful magic.

Skeletor needed to be a great evil in order that He-Man could be a great good.  Again we draw the comparison to the lich, a spellcaster that works great and dark magics to transcend death itself and continue in its quest for power.  Skeletor just looks badass and his character should have matched it.  In practice he ends up being like Cobra Commander, a poor leader, a poor planner and a whinging twat.  Even Cy-Kill of the Gobots is a more interesting and effective villain.

Mattel released new collector’s editions of figures starting in 2008.  Included in this run in 2009 was Skeletor.  This edition, seen below, is based on his original incarnation from 1982, but updated to a more articulated form.  It is, quite nice, but doesn’t show the evil joy of the Four Horsemen sculpt.  Despite that, I think its retro appeal with updated quality is nice.  The number of points of articulation has been increased dramatically from the original 6 (hip, hip, shoulder, shoulder, waist, neck) with the inclusion of ball and socket joints as well.  This makes the figure poseable, but it is really the sculpt that concerns me.  It is a nice sculpt with the face harkening back to the expressionless 1982 version.  Is that creepier than the demonic 2002?  You decide.

In keeping with the general theme of InAction Figures, I must feature the Skeletor statue sculpted by the Four Horsemen:
Now THAT'S an InAction Figure.  Look at the detail.  Look how he is frozen in a glorious second of motion and action, threatening great harm to any and all who oppose him.  Can't get that from an articulated dolly
Now that is an InAction Figure!  The pose, the sculpt, the entire feeling is a serious threat to good and justice.  This is the guy that used to menace the heroes at Castle Grayskull when I was playing the game, at least in my head it was. 

For more information on Skeletor, including his character origin, its variations and the Keldor connection, you can check the Internet Repository of  Common Knowledge or

Until next time, keep your figures static.


  1. A very good deconstruction of the He-Man Universe. I love the static sculpt. That is just, as you say, badass. Is that He-Man's broken axe in the ground next to him. Did Skeletor go all Skeletor on Prince Charming, err Adam?

  2. "Did Skeletor go all Skeletor...?"
    That you could find no better comparison for Skeletor than Skeletor just proves how badass he is, nicht wahr?
    That statue is indeed a glorious thing of beauty. That is some Michelangelo shit right there.